Interleukin 1 beta (IL-1 beta) is a polypeptide with pro-inflammatory and immunopotentiating effects in vivo and in vitro. With relevance to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) IL-1 augments release of prostanoids, proteinases and oxygen metabolites and is a potent inducer of bone and cartilage resorption. Although high levels of IL-1 have been found in rheumatoid synovial fluids, intra-individual variation in IL-1 production has made it difficult to correlate these levels with disease activity. To overcome this problem we have studied patients with symmetrical and asymmetrical knee joint inflammation. Local disease activity was documented using Ritchie score and joint circumference; IL-1 beta levels were quantitated in synovial fluid by ELISA. In patients with symmetrical joint involvement almost identical levels of IL-1 beta were detected in the right and left knee joints. In contrast, in patients exhibiting asymmetrical knee joint involvement, IL-1 beta levels in the inflamed joints were significantly higher than in the contralateral joints. The study provides further evidence for the role of IL-1 in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid inflammation.