The number of infectious pathogens to which an individual has been exposed (pathogen burden) has been linked to the development and the prognosis of coronary artery disease (CAD). The interaction among infection, genetic host susceptibility, and CAD remains unclear. This study was aimed at evaluating the modulation of the association between CAD and pathogen burden, by serum levels of inflammatory markers and polymorphisms of the interleukin (IL)-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha genes. Immmunoglobulin (Ig) G or IgA antibodies to 8 pathogens were determined in 991 patients with CAD and 333 control subjects. Serum levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, IL-6, and TNF-alpha were also measured. All subjects were genotyped for the IL-6/G-174C, the TNF/C-851T, and the TNF/G-308A polymorphisms. Analysis of single pathogens demonstrated a positive relation to the presence of CAD for some (Chlamydia pneumoniae, cytomegalovirus, Helicobacter pylori, and herpes virus simplex type 1), but not all pathogens. A strong association between increasing pathogen burden and CAD was confirmed, even after adjustment for risk factors. The prevalence of a high pathogen burden (>/=4 pathogens) was 50% in patients and 21% in controls (p <0.0001). A high pathogen burden was associated with decreased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (p <0.001). The association between CAD and pathogen burden was modulated by the IL6/G-174C polymorphism, the odds ratio being higher in heterozygotes than in both types of homozygotes (p <0.05). This interaction appeared to be mediated by variations in serum IL-6 levels. No such interaction was detected with any of the 2 TNF-alpha polymorphisms.