The pathogenesis of PTH-induced bone loss is uncertain. Experimental evidence suggests that PTH induces the production by osteoblasts of the bone-resorbing cytokine, interleukin-6. We measured the circulating levels of interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and interleukin-1 beta and examined their relationship to biochemical markers of bone turnover in 38 patients with primary hyperparathyroidism (7 of whom also were studied after successful parathyroid adenomectomy), 6 patients with hypoparathyroidism, and 12 subjects with normal parathyroid function. The patients with untreated primary hyperparathyroidism had mean serum levels of interleukin-6 that were 16-fold higher than control values (mean +/- SEM; primary hyperparathyroidism 18.6 +/- 2.1 pg/mL, controls 1.1 +/- 0.1; P < 0.001). Circulating levels of interleukin-6 soluble receptor (primary hyperparathyroidism 41.7 +/- 1.2 ng/ mL, controls 25.1 +/- 1.0; P < 0.001), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (primary hyperparathyroidism 11.6 +/- 0.8 pg/mL, controls 2.5 +/- 0.2; P < 0.001) were also elevated. After successful parathyroid adenomectomy, levels of each of these cytokines fell into the normal range. The mean levels of interleukin-6, its soluble receptor, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha in the subjects with hypoparathyroidism were lower than control values (P < 0.001 for each variable). There was no difference between subjects with primary hyperparathyroidism and controls in the circulating level of interleukin-1 beta. In the subjects with untreated primary hyperparathyroidism, serum levels of interleukin-6 correlated strongly with those of intact PTH (r = 0.47, P = 0.003) and biochemical markers of bone resorption: serum deoxypyridinoline (r = 0.93, P < 0.001), serum type I collagen carboxyterminal telopeptide (r = 0.87, P < 0.001), urinary pyridinoline (r = 0.81, P < 0.001), and urinary deoxypyridinoline (r = 0.63, P = 0.005). Levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha correlated less strongly with the same variables: PTH (r = 0.41, P = 0.01), serum deoxypyridinoline (r = 0.48, P = 0.002), serum type I collagen carboxyterminal telopeptide (r = 0.46, P = 0.004), urinary pyridinoline (r = 0.61, P = 0.008), and urinary deoxypyridinoline (r = 0.61, P = 0.007). Levels of interleukin-6 also correlated with those of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (r = 0.44, P = 0.005). Multiple regression analysis indicated that interleukin-6, but not tumor necrosis factor-alpha, was independently predictive of bone resorption. We conclude that serum levels of interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha are increased in patients with primary hyperparathyroidism and are normalized by successful surgical treatment. The finding that these cytokines correlate with biochemical markers of bone resorption suggests that they play a role in the pathogenesis of bone loss in primary hyperparathyroidism.