Cell-mediated immunity and cytokines are probably involved in the pathogenesis of malaria. To investigate the role and the activity of different immune cells, we measured levels of tumour necrosis factor-(TNF-alpha), gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) and several interleukins (IL-2, IL-4, IL-6 and IL-10) in children with mild (MM) and cerebral (CM) Plasmodium falciparum malaria and compared them with those of healthy children from Guadalupe--Lobata District, St. Tomé Island, where malaria is mesoendemic. Both groups of patients had significantly higher levels of IL-6, IL-10 and TNF-alpha than controls. For IL-2, IL-4 and IFN-gamma we found no difference between the groups. However, 24 h after admission the levels of IL-10 and IL-6 were significantly higher in CM than in MM patients, although 7 days after treatment they returned to normal levels, similar to those found in control children. Therefore, TNF-alpha IL-6 and IL-10 increase during Plasmodium falciparum attacks in all children, not only in those with cerebral malaria. This finding suggests the activation of the monocyte/macrophage system during the early stage of clinical malaria.