We measured arterio-venous differences in concentrations of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF alpha) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) across a sc adipose tissue bed in the postabsorptive state in 39 subjects [22 women and 17 men; median age, 36 yr (interquartile range, 26-48 yr); body mass index, 31.8 kg/m2 (range, 22.3- 38.7 kg/m2); percent body fat, 28.7% (range, 17.6-50.7%)]. A subgroup of 8 subjects had arteriovenous differences measured across forearm muscle. Thirty subjects were studied from late morning to early evening; 19 ate a high carbohydrate meal around 1300 h, and 11 continued to fast. We found a greater than 2-fold increase in IL-6 concentrations across the adipose tissue bed [arterial, 2.27 pg/mL (range, 1.42-3.53 pg/mL); venous, 6.71 pg/mL (range, 3.36-9.62 pg/mL); P < 0.001], but not across forearm muscle. Arterial plasma concentrations of IL-6 correlated significantly with body mass index (Spearman's r = 0.48; P < 0.01) and percent body fat (Spearman's r = 0.49; P < 0.01). Subcutaneous adipose tissue IL-6 production increased by the early evening (1800-1900 h) in both subjects who had extended their fasting and those who had eaten. Neither deep forearm nor sc adipose tissue consistently released TNF alpha [across adipose tissue: arterial, 1.83 pg/mL (range, 1.36-2.34 pg/mL); venous, 1.85 pg/mL (range, 1.44-2.53 pg/mL); P = NS: across forearm muscle: arterial, 1.22 pg/mL (range, 0.74-2.76 pg/mL); venous, 0.99 pg/mL (range, 0.69-1.70 pg/mL); P = NS]. Although both IL-6 and TNF alpha are expressed by adipose tissue, our results show that there are important differences in their systemic release. TNF alpha is not released by this sc depot. In contrast, IL-6 is released from the depot and is thereby able to signal systemically.