Interleukin-6 (IL-6) concentrations in knee joint synovial fluids and paired plasma samples of arthritis patients were examined with respect to each other and parameters of the inflammatory response. Synovial fluid and plasma IL-6 concentrations were significantly higher in patients with inflammatory arthritis than those detected in patients with osteoarthritis (P less than 0.001). The IL-6 concentrations in synovial fluids were considerably higher than, but significantly correlated with (r = 0.65; P less than 0.001), those of plasma. Furthermore, synovial fluid IL-6 concentrations in bilaterally inflamed knees were significantly correlated (r = 0.79; P less than 0.001) and there was a significant correlation with the extent of inflammatory cell infiltrate (r = 0.75; P less than 0.001). In unselected rheumatoid arthritis patients there was only a weak correlation between IL-6 and plasma C-reactive protein (CRP) concentration, and no correlation between IL-6 and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). However, both ESR and CRP concentration were highly correlated with plasma IL-6 concentration in patients with other inflammatory arthritides, particularly psoriatic and HLA B27 positive spondyloarthritis (r = 0.72-0.94; P less than 0.005). These relationships suggest that IL-6 production in inflammed knee joints can be a significant determinant of acute phase protein responses in arthritis patients, although the situation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis is more complex and may be influenced by other disease-related factors.