Cytokines are considered as mediators of immune and inflammatory responses. Cisternal CSF levels of interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) and of the soluble adhesion molecule E-selectin were evaluated in patients operated on for intracranial aneurysms. Cisternal CSF samples were obtained at surgery in 41 selected patients (31 with diagnosis of subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) and 10 control patients operated on for incidental unruptured aneurysms); 14 patients were operated within 72 h after SAH (early surgery) and 17 were operated after day 10 after the hemorrhage (delayed surgery). The CSF levels of cytokines were evaluated using radioimmunoassay and their concentrations were related to the timing of surgery, the amount of cisternal subarachnoid blood clots and the onset of clinical and angiographical evidence of arterial vasospasm. Mean cisternal CSF levels of IL-6, IL-8 and AMCP-1 are significantly higher in samples obtained from patients early operated after SAH, while levels of E-selectin were below the threshold value of the method in all 41 cases. In the early operated group 7 patients presented symptomatic vasospasm: levels of IL-8 and MCP-1 were not significantly different were compared to those of uncomplicated cases; on the other hand, significantly higher levels of IL-6 were shown in the subgroup of patients operated within 72 h after SAH and developing vasospasm. Among the patients undergoing delayed surgery 5 presented symptomatic vasospasm, but no significant difference was shown in cisternal CSF levels of cytokines measured. The results of the present study show that in patients with unruptured aneurysms cytokines are present in cisternal CSF in scarce quantities and that in subarachnoid spaces after SAH there is an impressive increase of IL-6, IL-8 and MCP-1. Moreover, the higher cisternal CSF levels of IL-6 found in the early stage after SAH might have a predictive value regarding the occurrence of symptomatic vasospasm.