Although excess visceral fat is associated with noninfectious inflammation, it is not clear whether visceral fat is simply associated with or actually causes metabolic disease in humans. To evaluate the hypothesis that visceral fat promotes systemic inflammation by secreting inflammatory adipokines into the portal circulation that drains visceral fat, we determined adipokine arteriovenous concentration differences across visceral fat, by obtaining portal vein and radial artery blood samples, in 25 extremely obese subjects (mean +/- SD BMI 54.7 +/- 12.6 kg/m(2)) during gastric bypass surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. Mean plasma interleukin (IL)-6 concentration was approximately 50% greater in the portal vein than in the radial artery in obese subjects (P = 0.007). Portal vein IL-6 concentration correlated directly with systemic C-reactive protein concentrations (r = 0.544, P = 0.005). Mean plasma leptin concentration was approximately 20% lower in the portal vein than in the radial artery in obese subjects (P = 0.0002). Plasma tumor necrosis factor-alpha, resistin, macrophage chemoattractant protein-1, and adiponectin concentrations were similar in the portal vein and radial artery in obese subjects. These data suggest that visceral fat is an important site for IL-6 secretion and provide a potential mechanistic link between visceral fat and systemic inflammation in people with abdominal obesity.