Recent reports have focused interest on human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Our aim in this study was to examine the frequency of HCMV-infected intestinal cells in tissue sections obtained from patients with IBD, and to investigate if HCMV-infected intestinal cells produce the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6. We studied intestinal tissue sections from 13 patients with ulcerative colitis, 10 with Crohn's disease, 10 cancer patients without intestinal inflammation, and 10 samples from HCMV-infected AIDS patients. HCMV-DNA was detected by in situ hybridization in sections obtained from 12/13 patients with ulcerative colitis, in 10 with Crohn's disease, in 10/10 samples from HCMV-infected AIDS patients, but not in any of the 10 samples that were obtained from uninflamed tissues. HCMV-specific antigens were detected in samples from all HCMV-infected AIDS patients, in 11/13 sections from patients with ulcerative colitis, in 10/10 samples from patients with Crohn's disease, but not in sections from uninflamed tissues. Cells were double positive for an HCMV early antigen and IL-6 in 10/13 sections from patients with ulcerative colitis, in all patients with Crohn's disease, and in 4/10 samples from AIDS patients. In conclusion, these results suggest that active HCMV infection in the intestine is very frequent in patients with IBD, and may contribute to the inflammatory process through an increased production of IL-6.