In an ongoing prospective study, IL-1 concentrations were measured in 78 children (aged 3-36 months) with acute otitis media receiving antibiotics. Middle ear fluid IL-1 concentrations were determined using ELISA kits. Ninety-eight middle ear fluid samples were obtained by tympanocentesis at enrollment (day 1) and 43 samples were collected on days 4-5. Ninety-two pathogens were isolated in 77/98 samples obtained on day 1: 55 Haemophilus influenzae, 34 Streptococcus pneumoniae, 2 Moraxella catarrhalis and 1 Streptococcus pyogenes. Among 37 paired samples initially culture-positive, eradication of the pathogen was achieved on day 4-5 in 20 while pathogens were still present in 17. On day 1, IL-1 was detected in 61/77 (79%) culture-positive samples vs 9/21 (43%) culture-negative ones (P = 0.003). The mean +/- SD middle ear fluid concentration of IL-1 on day 1 was significantly higher in culture-positive (316 +/- 508 pg/ml) than in culture-negative samples (111 +/- 245 pg/ml) (P = 0.01). When paired samples were evaluated, IL-1 decreased on days 4-5 in 13/20 (65%) ears where bacterial eradication was achieved, but also in 11/19 (58%) with persistent or new infection. The mean IL-1 concentrations decreased on days 4-5 in the 20 samples from ears where bacterial eradication was achieved (330 +/- 460 vs 118 +/- 294 pg/ml, P = 0.1) but also in the 17 samples where it was not (465 +/- 660 vs 232 +/- 289 pg/ml, P = 0.02). No significant differences were found between day 1 and days 4-5 in the mean IL-1 concentrations measured in patients with H. influenzae vs S. pneumoniae or concomitant H. influenzae and S. pneumoniae. It was concluded that: 1) IL-1 was detected in the middle ear fluid of most patients with acute otitis media; 2) significantly higher IL-1 concentrations were found in patients with culture-positive than in those with culture-negative acute otits media; 3) IL-1 concentrations decreased on days 4-5 of antibiotic therapy, whether the pathogen was eradicated or not.