Ethanol alters many metabolic processes within the liver. Both ethanol abuse and the inability to mount an acute phase response (APR) have been associated with an increased morbidity and mortality in critically ill patients. To determine if ethanol influences the hepatic APR, relative amounts of two different human acute phase protein mRNA's were examined in the human hepatoma cell line Hep 3B before and after exposure to ethanol. Hep 3B cells were treated with one or more of the following: ethanol ((E) 150 mM); interleukin-1 beta ((IL-1) 200 units/ml); or interleukin-6 ((IL-6) 50 units/ml). After a 12-20 hr incubation relative amounts of mRNA for a1-protease inhibitor (PI) or beta fibrinogen were determined by Northern blot hybridization. Both ethanol and IL-6 were found to induce a1-PI mRNA. Fibrinogen mRNA was induced by IL-6 but not by ethanol, and no induction of PI or fibrinogen mRNA was found with IL-1. This suggests that under certain conditions, ethanol may influence acute phase protein metabolism. To our knowledge, this is the first description of an ethanol induced alteration of acute phase protein mRNA.