The acute phase response is an orchestrated response to tissue injury, infection or inflammation. A prominent feature of this response is the induction of acute phase proteins, which are involved in the restoration of homeostasis. Cytokines are important mediators of the acute phase response. Uncontrolled and prolonged action of cytokines is potentially harmful, therefore mechanisms exist which limit the activity of cytokines; these include soluble cytokine receptors and receptor antagonists. The cytokine signal is transmitted into the cell via membrane-bound receptors. Different intracellular signalling pathways are activated by different cytokine-receptor interactions. Eventually, cytokine-inducible transcription factors interact with their response elements in the promotor region of acute phase genes and transcription is induced. Systemic inflammation results in a systemic acute phase response. However, local inflammatory or injurious processes in the liver may also induce an acute phase response, for example after partial hepatectomy and during hepatic fibrosis. The acute phase proteins induced in these conditions probably act to limit proteolytic and/or fibrogenic activity and tissue damage. The possible function of the acute phase protein alpha 2-macroglobulin in hepatic fibrosis is discussed in some detail.