Cancer cachexia is associated with an elevated hepatic acute phase protein response, poor outcome and elevated cytokine production from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). This study investigates the mechanism by which PBMC can induce a hepatic acute phase response. Supernatants from the peripheral blood cells of cancer patients induced significantly higher C-reactive protein (CRP) from hepatocytes (198+/-21 ng ml-1) than did supernatants from healthy controls (64+/-20, p<0.005). CRP production in vitro correlated with IL-6 production by PBMC from patients with pancreatic cancer (r=0.76, p<0.0001). This C-reactive protein production was reduced by 84% using neutralising antibody to IL-6 (p<0.001). There was a significant negative correlation between PBMC-induced hepatocyte C-reactive protein production and survival (r=-0.45, p<0.01). PBMC from cancer patients induce the hepatic acute phase response via a primarily IL-6-dependent mechanism.