In the past years dialyzers have been improved, and consequently pyrogenic reactions have become rare. However, some patients in our dialysis unit have shown symptoms during hemodialysis which we suspected could be caused by endotoxins. These patients, as well as controls without similar symptoms, had elevated levels of circulating endotoxin. We therefore measured endotoxin in blood from patients with chronic renal failure and different kinds of treatment. Serum samples were analyzed with a sensitive method described in the literature, using a chromogenic substrate and Limulus amebocyte lysate. In patients on hemodialysis (mean +/- SEM) the endotoxin value in samples taken immediately before dialysis was 40 +/- 4.7 ng/l and significantly elevated (p less than 0.001) compared with the endotoxin value (7 +/- 0.6 ng/l) found in the healthy reference group. Increased endotoxin levels were also seen in patients on hemofiltration (19 +/- 7.5 ng/l) and in patients with conservative treatment and various degrees of renal insufficiency (17 +/- 2.5 ng/l). Patients on peritoneal dialysis and renal-transplanted patients had levels not different from the controls. The mechanism behind endotoxemia in uremia is unknown but may partly be explained by reduced endotoxin elimination due to impaired liver macrophage function. The differences in endotoxin levels in patients on peritoneal or hemodialysis treatment may reflect that extracorporeal circulation enhances endotoxin entrance to the circulation and/or that endotoxin clearance is dependent on the dialysis regimen.