Although altered cytokine homeostasis has been implicated in the pathogenesis of alcoholic liver disease, the relationship between cytokines and metabolic consequences of alcoholic liver disease is unknown. We, therefore, sought to correlate circulating concentrations of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1 and interleukin-6 to clinical and biochemical parameters of liver disease in chronic alcoholic patients. We used an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay to measure plasma tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-1 and a bioassay to measure serum interleukin-6 in three groups of alcoholic men as follows: (a) actively drinking alcoholic men without evidence of chronic liver disease, (b) nondrinking alcoholic men with stable cirrhosis and (c) patients with acute alcoholic hepatitis. Mean cytokine concentrations were elevated in cirrhotic patients and alcoholic hepatitis patients compared with controls and alcoholic patients without liver disease. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1 alpha concentrations remained elevated for up to 6 mo after diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis, whereas interleukin-6 normalized in parallel with clinical recovery. Concentrations of all three cytokines were correlated with biochemical parameters of liver injury and hepatic protein synthesis plus serum immunoglobulin concentrations. We could not demonstrate a relationship between cytokine concentrations and peripheral endotoxemia. Percentages of peripheral blood monocytes that reacted with monoclonal antibodies to CD25 (interleukin-2 receptor) and human lymphocyte antigen-DR were similar for alcoholic patients and controls. These data suggest that tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1 alpha are related to some of the metabolic consequences of both acute and chronic alcohol-induced liver disease, whereas interleukin-6 is related to abnormalities seen in acute liver injury.