Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by several immunological abnormalities. The pathogenic importance of T cells in this disease is well established. Interleukin-16 (IL-16) is a cytokine which is mainly produced by CD8+ T cells and induces chemotaxis of CD4+ T cells and monocytes. IL-16 levels have been shown to be elevated in SLE patients in a cross-sectional study, but the mechanism is unknown. To explore whether the increased IL-16 levels are associated with genetic background or the disease itself, we investigated the IL-16 level in healthy first-degree family members of SLE patients and SLE patients who were followed over time with regard to disease activity. We observed high IL-16 levels in SLE patients with severe disease compared to SLE patients with non-severe disease and healthy controls. Furthermore, IL-16 levels in first-degree relatives were not different from those in healthy controls. These results suggest that high IL-16 levels are associated with severity of SLE, but not with genetic susceptibility to SLE. Finally, we followed the disease activity of SLE patients over time, which showed significant correlation between the SLE disease activity index and IL-16, ESR and the complement components C3, C4 and CH50. In conclusion, these results implicate an association of IL-16 with SLE.