We investigated the prognostic significance of interleukin-10 (IL-10) and soluble interleukin-2 receptor (sIL-2r) levels in the pretreatment serum of 105 individuals with newly-diagnosed aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Commercially available enzyme-linked immunoassay kits were used for cytokine and receptor measurements. Detectable levels of IL-10 were found in 42 (40%) patients at diagnosis, with no correlation with clinico-haematological parameters, but in no control samples (P < 0.001). Pretreatment concentrations of sIL-2r were markedly increased in individuals with NHL when compared to controls (2614 +/- 893 U/ml v 219 +/- 65 U/ml, P < 0.001), patients with stage III/IV presenting higher values than those with stage II disease (3885 +/- 1196 U/ml v 1732 +/- 646 U/ml, P < 0.001). No single parameter was associated with the achievement of complete remission, but the combination of elevated IL-10 and of sIL-2r greater than 3000 U/ml selected a subset of patients with a high probability of failing induction therapy (P < 0.001). Life-table analysis also indicated that patients with these characteristics have a significantly shorter event-free survival. In a multivariate analysis the combination of IL-10 with sIL-2r was found to have greater predictive strength than the combination of IL-10 with beta 2-microglobulin. We conclude that IL-10 and sIL-2r measurements can be expected to improve existing methods of risk assignment in aggressive NHL.