Ex vivo production of cytokines as determined by whole blood stimulation and supernatant ELISA is partly determined by heritability. To assess the ability of this system to distinguish between high and low producers the laboratory error and individual variation were investigated. Whole blood samples from healthy volunteers were collected using endotoxin-free tubes and were incubated with 0 to 1000 ng/ml lipopolysaccharide concentrations for 4 and 24 h, and subsequently centrifuged. In the supernatants, TNF-alpha and IL10 were measured by ELISA. Coefficients of variation for the day-to-day variation in the blood sampling, transport and stimulation as well as in the whole blood stimulation per se ranged from 7.5% to 12.3%. The intra-individual variation was 15% (TNF-alpha) and 19% (IL10) in contrast to the inter-individual variation of, on average, 35%. No interchanging of ranks between high and low producers was observed after repeating the whole blood stimulation on distinct days. The whole blood stimulation system is able to distinguish high and low producers of TNF-alpha and IL10.