Cytokines serve a central function as key factors in the regulation of the intestinal immune response and mediation of tissue damage in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Abnormalities in the expression of immunoregulatory cytokines such as IL-2, IL-4, IL-10 and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) may indicate a dysregulation of intestinal immunity probably associated with pathogenic events. Therefore, cytokine mRNA concentrations were determined in the mucosa of patients with IBD at sites of active (n = 13) and inactive (n = 12) ulcerative colitis (UC), active (n = 11) and inactive (n = 11) Crohn's disease (CD) and in control patients (n = 14) using quantitative RT-PCR. IL-10 mRNA concentrations were significantly increased in patients with both active UC (P < 0.001) and active CD (P < 0.005) compared with control patients. IFN-gamma mRNA concentrations were also significantly increased both in patients with active UC (P < 0.02) and active CD (P < 0.05) compared with control patients, whereas IL-2 mRNA levels were significantly (P < 0.02) increased only in active CD. IL-4 mRNA expression in the intestinal mucosa was frequently below the detection limit. Our results demonstrate that chronic intestinal inflammation in patients with CD is characterized by an increase of Th1-like cytokines. Furthermore, the increased IL-10 mRNA expression at sites of active IBD suggests that IL-10 is an important regulatory component involved in the control of the inflammatory response in inflammatory bowel disease.