During the progression of Mg deficiency in a rodent model, we have observed dramatic increases in serum levels of inflammatory cytokines [interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)] after 3 wk on a Mg-deficient diet. Sequential analyses of these cytokine changes in the serum of rats revealed an initial rise at day 12, followed by a major elevation in all three cytokine levels by day 21. Of greater interest was an early peak in the serum level of the neuropeptide substance P after only 5 days on the diet. This "neuronal" tachykinin is thought to be released from neural tissues, and it is known to stimulate production of certain cytokines, including IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-alpha. In addition, there was a concomitant increase in histamine levels, which may have resulted from stimulation and degranulation of mast cells by substance P. Thus we hypothesize that the release of substance P may be the earliest pathophysiological event leading to stimulation of the inflammatory cytokines, which may then stimulate the free radical mechanisms of injury previously confirmed by our work.