The purpose of the current study was to test the hypothesis that an altered fat distribution in elderly healthy subjects and in patients with type-2 diabetes contributes to high circulating levels of interleukin (IL)-6 and tumor necrotic factor (TNF)-alpha, which secondly is related to lower muscle mass. Twenty young controls, (20-35 yr), 20 healthy elderly subjects (65-80 yr) and 16 elderly patients with type 2 diabetes (65-80 yr) were included in a cross sectional study. Plasma levels of TNF-alpha and IL-6 were measured after an overnight fast. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and total body potassium counting measured truncal fat, appendicular skeletal muscle mass (ASM) and body cell mass (BCM), respectively. TNF-alpha, IL-6 and the relative truncal fat mass were higher in elderly compared with young controls. ASM was lower in diabetic men than in young controls and BCM was lower in elderly men compared with young men. TNF-alpha and IL-6 were correlated with the absolute as well as the relative truncal fat mass in univariate regression analyses. Similar results were found in multivariate linear regression analyses after adjusting for the effect of age and gender. TNF-alpha was related to lower ASM and BCM in elderly men both in a univariate regression analysis and a multivariate regression analysis. In conclusion, high plasma levels of TNF-alpha and IL-6 in elderly healthy people and in patients with type 2 diabetes are associated with increased truncal fat mass, suggesting that cytokines are partly derived from this adipose tissue bed. Furthermore, TNF-alpha was related to lower ASM and BCM, suggesting that TNF-alpha contributes to sarcopenia in ageing.