Obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing atherosclerosis, which may be mediated, at least in part, by increased secretion of proinflammatory cytokines by adipose tissue. We examined the hypothesis that circulating levels of IL-18 were elevated in obese women and would be reduced by weight loss. In a sample of 40 obese (body mass index, 36.4 +/- 3.1 kg/m(2)) women we found that plasma IL-18 levels were higher than in 40 normal weight control women (P < 0.01) and were positively associated with body weight (r = 0.46; P < 0.01) and visceral fat (waist to hip ratio; r = 0.39; P < 0.01). Caloric restriction-induced weight loss (> or = 10% of original weight) over 1 yr reduced IL-18 levels from 247 (204/309) to 147 (111/210) pg/ml (medians and 25%/75%; P < 0.01), positively associated with changes in body mass index and waist to hip ratio. In obese women, IL-18 levels are associated with body weight and abdominal fat deposition; weight loss is an important intervention to reduce IL-18 levels. IL-18 may be a novel cytokine operating in human obesity.