We have developed real-time PCR systems to quantitate feline cytokine gene expression. The method is based on the cleavage of fluorescent dye-labelled probes by the 5'-3' exonuclease activity of the Taq DNA polymerase during PCR and measurement of fluorescence intensity by a Sequence Detection System. The feline-specific TaqMan probes were designed to encompass an intron, thus allowing differentiation of complementary DNA versus genomic DNA amplification products. Quantitative analysis of cytokine cDNA concentrations was performed in comparison to feline GAPDH. Messenger RNA (mRNA) from the universally expressed housekeeping gene GAPDH proved to be useful as an amplification control and allowed for correction of variations in the efficiencies of RNA extraction and reverse transcription. GAPDH mRNAs were readily detectable in cDNAs prepared from unstimulated feline peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and from frozen cell pellets, while cytokines (Interleukin (IL)-4, IL-10, IL-12 p35, IL-12 p40, IFNgamma, IL-16) were expressed at variable amounts. IFNgamma transcription was found to be upregulated in stimulated PBMCs and feline cell lines. The synthesis of cDNA and the performance of the PCR in separate tubes proved to be of superior sensitivity compared to a single-tube based system. The assays described are highly reproducible, require no post-PCR manipulation of the amplicons and permit the analysis of several hundred PCR reactions per day. With this method it is possible to detect and quantify cytokine mRNA expression reliably in small amounts of cells even after storage of samples for at least 5 years.