Twelve patients with acute pancreatitis admitted to our department between January 1993 and December 1994 were studied prospectively and classified into two groups (severe group, five patients; mild group, seven patients), according to the criteria for grading severity of acute pancreatitis proposed by the Research Committee for Intractable Diseases of the Pancreas, Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare (1990). To evaluate markers for early estimation of the severity of acute pancreatitis, we measured serum changes in various parameters. In the severe group interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels were increased significantly 5, 24, 72, and 120 h after the onset (p < 0.01), compared with the mild group. C-reactive protein (CRP), thrombin antithrombin III, and alpha 2-plasmin inhibitor plasmin complex levels were significantly increased only at the 72-h time point. Peak values of interleukin-8 (IL-8) and soluble human E selectin were observed at 5 and 72 h, respectively, after the onset. There was a significant correlation between IL-6 at 5 h and both pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor (r = 0.85) and CRP (r = 0.94) at 72 h. We therefore conclude that IL-6 is a useful marker for assessment of the severity of acute pancreatitis in its early stages.