The release of the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1 beta, IL-6, TNF-alpha and soluble TNF-receptors p55 and p75 in peripheral blood was serially determined in 19 patients with acute cerebral ischemia. Only patients admitted within 4 h following onset of symptoms were studied. In contrast to serum levels of IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha and TNF-receptors, which did not exhibit a significant response, IL-6 showed a significant increase of serum levels already within the first hours following onset of disease and reached a plateau at 10 h until day 3 and returned to baseline by day 7. The increase of levels of this cytokine was significantly (P < 0.05) correlated with increasing volumes of brain lesion and was also significantly (P < 0.005) associated with poor functional and neurological outcome. The increase of levels of IL-6 despite a considerable dilution in peripheral blood shown in this preliminary study suggests an early inflammatory response in ischemic brain lesion.