Chronic alcoholism complicated by alcoholic liver disease is characterized by activation of the inflammatory response system. To evaluate the role of cytokines in the progress of alcoholic cirrhosis, we assessed serum level of the proinflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin (IL)-6, and IL-8 and the antiinflammatory cytokines IL-2, IL-10, and transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta in patients with compensated and decompensated alcoholic liver cirrhosis. Compensated alcoholic cirrhosis was characterized by increased IL-6 (6.3+/-2.9 vs. HP 2.2+/-1.4 pg/ml in controls) and decreased IL-10 (HP 4.1+/-3.5 vs. 6.4+/-5.4 pg/ml in controls). TNF-alpha, IL-8, and TGF-beta1 levels were comparable to those found in controls. In sera of patients with decompensated alcoholic liver cirrhosis, besides increased IL-6 (11.2+/-7.7 pg/ml), increased concentrations of TNF-alpha (25.1+/-4.5 vs. 9.1+/-7.0 pg/ml in controls) and IL-8 (171.7+/-294.0 vs. 2.7+/-2.9 pg/ml in controls) were also detected. TGF-beta1 and IL-10 levels were similar to those found in controls. These results strongly indicate that a significant derangement of the balance between proinflammatory and antiinflammatory signals is characteristic of compensated and especially of decompensated alcoholic cirrhosis.