Ageing is accompanied by 2-4-fold increases in plasma/serum levels of inflammatory mediators such as cytokines and acute phase proteins. A wide range of factors seems to contribute to this low-grade inflammation, including an increased amount of fat tissue, decreased production of sex steroids, smoking, subclinical infections (e.g. asymptomatic bacteriuria), and chronic disorders such as cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, there is some evidence that ageing is associated with a dysregulated cytokine response following stimulation. Several inflammatory mediators such as tumour necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6 have the potential to induce/aggravate risk factors in age-associated pathology, providing a positive feedback mechanism. Thus, it is possible that inflammatory mediators constitute a link between life style factors, infections and physiological changes in the process of ageing on the one hand and risk factors for age-associated diseases on the other. Consistent with this, inflammatory mediators are strong predictors of mortality independently of other known risk factors and co-morbidity in elderly cohorts. A direct pathogenetic role of inflammatory mediators would be highly likely if longevity was shown to be associated with cytokine polymorphisms regulating cytokine production. Several studies support indeed this hypothesis but, unfortunately, findings in this area are conflicting, which probably reflects the complexity of the effect of cytokine polymorphisms and their interaction with the lifestyle and sex.