The aim of this study was to examine if TNF alpha and IL-6 plasma levels could be of value in diagnosing neonatal sepsis. Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) plasma levels were determined in 15 newborn infants with confirmed sepsis (group I), 18 with suspected sepsis (group II) and 22 control infants (group III). In 33 newborns, initially suspected of having sepsis (groups I and II), a positive test result for plasma concentration of TNF alpha (> 70 pg/ml) had a sensitivity of 73% and a specificity of 94%. A positive test result for IL-6 (> 500 pg/ml) had a sensitivity of 80% and a specificity of 78%. When plasma levels of TNF alpha and IL-6 were combined for the diagnosis of neonatal sepsis, a positive test result for both tests had a sensitivity of 60% and a specificity of 100%. When both tests are positive the diagnosis of neonatal sepsis is almost certain (likelihood ratio = infinity). The combination of TNF alpha and IL-6 determinations appears to be a good predictor of neonatal sepsis.