The proportion of peripheral blood mononuclear cells expressing the T helper cell phenotype and levels of antiendotoxin core antibody, interleukin (IL) 6 and C-reactive protein (CRP) were determined within 48 h of admission in a group of 29 patients with acute pancreatitis (16 mild, 13 severe attacks). There was a significant decrease in the proportion of T helper cells (12.2 versus 34.9 per cent, P < 0.01) and significant increases in levels of IL-6 (69.5 versus < 10 pg/ml, P < 0.01) and CRP (119 versus 30.5 mg/l, P < 0.01) in severe compared with mild attacks. During the convalescent stage at 3 months after admission, severe attacks were characterized by a significant increase in the proportion of T helper cells compared with the acute period (22.4 versus 10.6 per cent, P < 0.01). A persistently low proportion of T helper cells was associated with residual pancreatic necrosis. The presence of circulating endotoxin was demonstrated in two mild and two severe attacks using the Limulus amoebocyte lysate assay, and abnormal levels of antiendotoxin core antibodies were found in 70 and 92 per cent of mild and severe attacks respectively. There was a strong inverse correlation between levels of CRP and the proportion of T helper cells in severe disease (r = -0.76, P = 0.004). Translocation of endotoxin from the gastrointestinal tract may partly explain the abnormal levels of T helper cells, IL-6 and CRP.