Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by the accumulation of inflammatory cells into the synovium and the destruction of joints. Cytokines are important regulators of the synovial inflammation. Some cytokines, such as tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and interleukin (IL)-1, function by promoting inflammatory responses and by inducing cartilage degradation. Other cytokines, such as IL-4, IL-10 and IL-13, function mainly as anti-inflammatory molecules. Although anti-inflammatory cytokines are present in rheumatoid joints, in progressive RA their levels obviously are too low to neutralize the deleterious effects of proinflammatory cytokines. Inhibiting the action of proinflammatory cytokines by using specific cytokine inhibitors or anti-inflammatory cytokines is the basis for new therapies currently tested in patients with RA. Promising results on the use of neutralizing anti-TNF-alpha monoclonal antibodies in the treatment of RA have been reported. The results from a trial using recombinant IL-10 in the treatment of patients with RA are available in the near future and will be important in determining the therapeutic potential of this cytokine.