The authors characterized the role of interleukins in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the development of vasospasm after subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH), particularly interleukin-6 (IL-6). Concentrations of interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta), IL-6, and interleukin-8 (IL-8) were measured serially in CSF of 24 patients and in serum of 9 patients with SAH and correlated clinically. Additionally, the effects of the same cytokines on the cerebral arteries of dogs were analyzed on angiograms after intracisternal injection. Changes in levels of eicosanoids, angiogenic factors, and soluble cell adhesion molecules were investigated in the CSF of injected dogs. CSF concentrations of IL-6 and IL-8 were elevated significantly above control levels from the acute stage of SAH until the chronic stage. Patients with symptomatic vasospasm had significantly higher levels of IL-6 as well as IL-8 in CSF on days 5 and 7. Intracisternal injection of IL-6 induced long-lasting vasoconstriction in five out of eight dogs, while IL-8 did not. The diameter of canine basilar artery after IL-6 was reduced 29 +/- 5% from pretreatment diameter at 8 hours. Prostaglandins E2 and I2 were elevated in CSF for the first 4.5 hour of this IL-6-induced vasospasm. Neither angiogenic factors such as platelet-derived growth factor-AB and vascular endothelial growth factor nor soluble cell adhesion molecules were significantly elevated in CSF. IL-6, which increases to very high concentrations in CSF after SAH, may be important in inducing vasospasm, as IL-6 produced long-lasting vasoconstriction in the canine cerebral artery, which may be partly related to activation of the prostaglandin cascade.