Decreased bone mass has been reported in patients with idiopathic hypercalciuria. Previous studies, using bioassays, have suggested a role of interleukin-1 (IL-1), in the decreased bone mineral density (BMD) of fasting hypercalciuria. The present study was designed to determine which IL-1 fraction (alpha or beta) correlates with bone resorption and whether other known bone resorting cytokines like interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) may play a role in this process. Cytokines production was determined by quantitative and specific analysis, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and cytokine production by unstimulated and lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were determined in a group of 29 patients with recurrent nephrolithiasis (17 hypercalciurics and 12 normocalciurics), and 12 healthy controls. The hypercalciuric subjects showed lower vertebral BMD than the normocalciuric or normal controls. There was no difference in spinal or femoral BMD between absorptive or fasting hypercalciurics. A significant negative correlation existed between urinary calcium excretion and vertebral BMD (r = -0.55, P < 0.01). Basal IL-1 alpha production correlated with vertebral BMD (r = -0.45, P < 0.02). This correlation was not seen with IL-1 beta, IL-6 or TNF-alpha production. LPS-induced IL-6 and TNF-alpha production were enhanced in the hypercalciuric patients, when compared to normocalciurics or controls. Control and normocalciuric subjects showed minimal amounts of IL-1 alpha mRNA. In contrast, hypercalciuric patients showed a significant increase of spontaneous IL-1 alpha mRNA transcription. These results suggest that different cytokines could be involved in the bone resorption process observed in hypercalciuria.