Patients with alcoholic hepatitis often have hepatic polymorphonuclear leukocyte infiltration and neutrophilia. Interleukin-8 is a cytokine that stimulates neutrophil chemotaxis and release of lysosomal enzymes. It is made by several types of cells, including fibroblasts, Kupffer cells and hepatocytes. In this study, serial plasma interleukin-8 concentrations were measured with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in 40 consecutive patients with moderate-to-severe alcoholic hepatitis over a 6-mo period. Two control groups included 10 patients without clinically important liver disease admitted for treatment of alcohol dependence and 12 healthy male volunteers. The mean plasma interleukin-8 level on admission was markedly increased: 695 +/- 146 pg/ml in the alcoholic hepatitis patients. The alcohol-dependent control group and the normal volunteer controls had mean interleukin-8 concentrations of 106 +/- 28 pg/ml and 10 +/- 5 pg/ml, respectively. Initially increased interleukin-8 levels in alcoholic hepatitis patients decreased to a mean of 182 +/- 42 pg/ml over the first month; levels had decreased further to 124 +/- 79 pg/ml after 6 mo. Increased interleukin-8 concentrations in patients with alcoholic hepatitis suggest a role for interleukin-8 in the neutrophilia and hepatic polymorphonuclear leukocyte infiltration of alcoholic hepatitis.