Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a proinflammatory cytokine that has been shown to mediate, in addition to immune reactions, various endocrine and central nervous components of the acute phase response. In this context, the present study aimed to specify the contributions of IL-6 to the regulation of pituitary-adrenal secretory activity and GH and TSH secretion, as well as to the regulation of central nervous sleep and mood in healthy men. Effects of a low dose of IL-6 (0.5 microgram/kg body weight) were assessed, inducing plasma IL-6 concentrations closely comparable with those typically observed after infectious challenge. Each of the 16 male subjects participated in two 14-h sessions (between 1800 and 0800 h), receiving either placebo or human recombinant IL-6 sc at 1900 h. Blood was collected repeatedly to determine plasma hormone levels, serum concentrations of cytokines, and C-reactive protein. Moreover, mood was assessed, and sleep recordings were obtained between 2300 and 0700 h. The cytokine induced a prolonged increased in plasma concentrations of ACTH and cortisol (P < 0.001), but led to a decrease in TSH concentrations (P < 0.01). In response to IL-6, subjects reported fatigue and felt more inactive and less capable of concentrating than after placebo. Sleep architecture was altered significantly by the cytokine. Slow-wave sleep was decreased during the first half and increased during the second half of sleep. Rapid eye movement sleep during the entire nocturnal sleep time was significantly decreased. After IL-6, body temperature rose slightly. C-reactive protein concentrations were dramatically increased 12.5 h after substance administration (P < 0.001). IL-6 did not affect serum concentrations of IL-2, IL-8, interferon-alpha, and interferon-gamma. The results underscore the importance of IL-6 in the cascade of cytokines for the neuroendocrine response during the acute phase reaction. In addition, IL-6 appears to be involved in changes of sleep and behavior accompanying infection and inflammatory disorders.