Illness severity and frequency of complications in infants with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection may be influenced by the local elaboration of cytokines. Cytokine gene polymorphisms moderate severity of illness in various inflammatory and infectious diseases. We performed cytokine genotyping on 77 infants hospitalized with confirmed RSV infection to determine whether specific cytokine gene polymorphisms are associated with illness severity or complications. DNA was extracted from buccal brushings and assayed for tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, interferon (IFN)-gamma, interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-10, and transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta1 genotypes using polymerase chain reaction-sequence-specific primer technology. Clinical outcomes consisted of severity scores of lower respiratory illness, blood oxygen saturation, lengths of oxygen supplementation, and intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital stays, and the presence or absence of pneumonia and otitis media. IFN-gamma genotype was related to severity of lower respiratory illness, duration of ICU stay, and frequency of otitis media. Additionally, IL-6 genotype was related to the length of oxygen (O(2)) supplementation and hospital stay, IL-10 genotype to the frequency of pneumonia, and TGF-beta1 genotype to O(2) saturations at presentation. There were no associations between TNF-alpha genotype and any of the outcome parameters. These results demonstrate that certain cytokine gene polymorphisms contribute to illness severity and complications during RSV infection in infants. If future prospective studies confirm these observations, cytokine genotyping may be a useful tool for identifying "at risk" infants who may benefit from the selective use of preventive or early intervention treatments for RSV.