The risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in SLE patients is very high. It is therefore surprising that IL-10 has been discussed both as pathogenic in SLE and as an atheroprotective cytokine. In contrast, TNF is believed to be atherogenic and we recently reported that raised activity in the TNF-system is implicated in SLE-related CVD. Twenty-six (aged 52 +/- 8 years) female patients with SLE and a history of CVD (myocardial infarction, angina, stroke or claudication) were compared with 26 age-matched SLE patients without CVD (SLE controls) or 26 age-matched population controls. The -1087IL-10 gene polymorphism was determined by PCR with restriction endonuclease mapping. Serum IL-10 and TNF-levels were determined by ELISA. The A allele frequency of -1087IL-10 gene in SLE/CVD was higher than in SLE controls (0.62 versus 0.42, p < 0.05). Ten (38%) of 26 SLE/CVD exhibited IL-10 AA genotype compared with five (19%) of 26 SLE controls. Serum IL-10 and TNF-levels were raised in SLE/CVD compared with SLE controls or population controls (p < 0.001). Furthermore, in SLE/CVD, a significantly reduced IL-10:TNF ratio was observed in patients with IL-10 AA genotype compared with AG or GG genotype (0.56 versus 0.77 versus 1.24, p < 0.05). In SLE controls and population controls, individuals with IL-10 GG genotype tended to have higher IL-10:TNF ratio. In conclusion, the A-1087IL-10 allele which has been reported to cause a lower capacity for IL-10 production could contribute to CVD in SLE. Furthermore, the IL-10 AA genotype is associated with reduced ratio of atheroprotective to atherogenic cytokines in SLE patients with CVD.