Chronic heart failure (HF) is a state of inflammatory immune activation characterized by elevated circulating levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). Interleukin-10 (IL-10) is a potent anti-inflammatory cytokine that inhibits TNF-alpha production and lessens endotoxin bioactivity. It is not known whether IL-10 reduces lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulated TNF-alpha production of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from patients with chronic HF. PBMCs were isolated from 15 patients with chronic HF (New York Heart Association functional class 3.0 +/- 0.2, left ventricular ejection fraction 30 +/- 2%, peak oxygen consumption 18.1 +/- 0.8 ml/kg/min) and 15 healthy control subjects and stimulated with 1 and 10 ng/ml LPS for 24 hours with or without prior addition of IL-10 (10 ng/ml). TNF-alpha was quantified in cell-free supernatants by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. TNF-alpha, soluble TNF receptors, IL-10, and LPS were quantified in plasma. LPS stimulated TNF-alpha production was highest in those patients in New York Heart Association class II (p <0.01 vs New York Heart Association class III and IV, p <0.001 vs control subjects). IL-10 reduced PBMC TNF-alpha production in all stimulated samples at 1 and 10 ng/ml LPS (mean reduction 43% at 1 ng/ml, p <0.01 and 55% at 10 ng/ml, p <0.0001). The percentage reduction in TNF-alpha release did not differ significantly between patients and control subjects or with respect to severity of chronic HF or baseline immune parameters. Independently of clinical severity, IL-10 profoundly inhibits TNF-alpha release from PBMCs isolated from patients with chronic HF. IL-10 is, therefore, a potential therapy for use in chronic HF associated with inflammatory immune activation.