The lipid A moiety of lipopolysaccharides (LPS) initiates innate immune responses by interacting with Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), which results in the production of a wide range of cytokines. Derivatives of lipid A show potential for use as immuno-modulators for the treatment of a wide range of diseases and as adjuvants for vaccinations. Development to these ends requires a detailed knowledge of patterns of cytokines induced by a wide range of derivatives. This information is difficult to obtain by using isolated compounds due to structural heterogeneity and possible contaminations with other inflammatory components. To address this problem, we have developed a synthetic approach that provides easy access to a wide range of lipid A's by employing a common disaccharide building block functionalized with a versatile set of protecting groups. The strategy was employed for the preparation of lipid A's derived from E. coli and S. typhimurium. Mouse macrophages were exposed to the synthetic compounds and E. coli 055:B5 LPS, and the resulting supernatants were examined for tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interferon beta (IFN-beta), interleukin 6 (IL-6), interferon-inducible protein 10 (IP-10), RANTES, and IL-1beta. It was found that for each compound, the potencies (EC50 values) for the various cytokines differed by as much as 100-fold. These differences did not follow a bias toward a MyD88- or TRIF-dependent response. Instead, it was established that the observed differences in potencies of secreted TNF-alpha and IL-1beta were due to differences in the processing of respective pro-proteins. Examination of the efficacies (maximum responses) of the various cytokines showed that each synthetic compound and E. coli 055:B5 LPS induced similar efficacies for the production of IFN-beta and IP-10. However, lipid A's 1-4 gave lower efficacies for the production of RANTES and IL-6 as compared to LPS. Collectively, the presented results demonstrate that cytokine secretion induced by LPS and lipid A is complex, which can be exploited for the development of immuno-modulating therapies.