Experimental studies suggest that cytokine-mediated inflammatory reactions are important in the cascade leading to hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. The purpose was to study the content of pro- and antiinflammatory cytokines in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of asphyxiated and control infants. Samples of CSF were obtained from 20 infants who fulfilled the criteria of birth asphyxia and from seven newborn control subjects. The concentrations of IL-1beta, IL-8, IL-10, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, and granulocyte/monocyte colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) were determined with ELISA and of IL-6 using a bioassay. The concentration of IL-6 (pg/mL) was higher in asphyxiated (250, 35-543; median, interquartile range) than in control (0, 0-18) infants (p = 0.001). There was also a significant relationship between IL-6 and the degree of HIE, and between IL-6 and outcome. In addition, the content of IL-8 (pg/mL) was higher (p = 0.009) in the asphyxia group (170, 70-1440), than in the the control group (10, 0-30) and there was an association between IL-8 and degree of HIE. The levels of IL-10, TNF-alpha, GM-CSF, and IL-1beta did not differ between groups. In conclusion, the proinflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IL-8 were markedly elevated in CSF of asphyxiated infants, and the intrathecal levels of these cytokines corresponded to the degree of HIE.