Polymorphisms in the regulatory regions of cytokine genes are associated with high and low cytokine production and may modulate the magnitude of alloimmune responses following transplantation. Ethnicity influences allograft half-life and the incidence of acute and chronic rejection. We have questioned whether ethnic-based differences in renal allograft survival could be due in part to inheritance of cytokine polymorphisms. To address that question, we studied the inheritance patterns for polymorphisms in several cytokine genes (IL-2, IL-6, IL-10, TNF-alpha, TGF-beta, and IFN-gamma) within an ethnically diverse study population comprised of 216 Whites, 58 Blacks, 25 Hispanics, and 31 Asians. Polymorphisms were determined by allele-specific polymerase chain reaction and restriction fragment length analysis. We found striking differences in the distribution of cytokine polymorphisms among ethnic populations. Specifically, significant differences existed between Blacks and both Whites and Asians in the distribution of the polymorphic alleles for IL-2. Blacks, Hispanics and Asians demonstrated marked differences in the inheritance of IL-6 alleles and IL-10 genotypes that result in high expression when compared with Whites. Those of Asian descent exhibited an increase in IFN-gamma genotypes that result in low expression as compared to Whites. In contrast, we did not find significant ethnic-based differences in the inheritance of polymorphic alleles for TNF-alpha. Our results show that the inheritance of certain cytokine gene polymorphisms is strongly associated with ethnicity. These differences may contribute to the apparent influence of ethnicity on allograft outcome.