Overexpression of the pluripotent cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1) by microglial cells correlates with formation of neuritic beta-amyloid plaques in Alzheimer's disease (AD). We evaluated polymorphisms in the genes coding for the IL-1alpha, IL-1beta, and IL-1 receptor antagonist cytokines, and tested their association with the occurrence and age at onset of sporadic AD. We found a strong association between the IL-1A T/T genotype and AD onset before 65 years of age (odds ratio, 4.86), with carriers of this genotype showing an onset of disease 9 years earlier than IL-1A C/C carriers. A weaker association with the age at onset was also shown for the IL-1B and IL-1RN genes. These data suggest either a direct effect of the IL-1 gene family, mainly IL-1A, on the clinical onset of AD, or a linkage dysequilibrium with an unknown locus relevant to AD on chromosome 2.