Four plasma proteins, referred to as positive acute phase proteins because of increases in concentration following inflammatory stimuli, are reviewed: C-reactive protein (CRP), serum amyloid A protein (SAA), alpha 1-acid glycoprotein (AAG), and fibrinogen. The CRP and SAA may increase in concentration as much as 1000-fold, the AAG and fibrinogen approximately twofold to fourfold. All are synthesized mainly in the liver, but each may be produced in a number of extrahepatic sites. The role of cytokines in induction of the acute phase proteins is discussed, particularly the multiple functional capabilities of interleukin-6 (IL-6). Other cytokines that regulate acute phase gene expression and protein synthesis include IL-1, tumor necrosis factor alpha, interferon gamma, as well as other stimulatory factors and cofactors. The physicochemical characteristics of each protein are reviewed together with the molecular biology. For each protein, the known biological effects are detailed. The following functions for CRP have been described: reaction with cell surface receptors resulting in opsonization, enhanced phagocytosis, and passive protection; activation of the classical complement pathway; scavenger for chromatin fragments; inhibition of growth and/or metastases of tumor cells; modulation of polymorphonuclear function; and a few additional diverse activities. The role of plasma SAA is described as a precursor of protein AA in secondary amyloidosis; other functions are speculative. AAG may play an immunoregulatory role as well as a role in binding a number of diverse drugs. In addition to clot formation, new data are described for binding of fibrinogen and fibrin to complement receptor type 3. Finally, the concentration of each protein is discussed in a wide variety of noninfectious and infectious disease states, particularly in connective tissue diseases. The quantification of the proteins during the course of various acute and chronic inflammatory disorders is useful in diagnosis, therapy, and in some cases, prognosis.