Plasma levels of endotoxin and various cytokines were assessed in 70 patients with gastrointestinal tract perforation. Sepsis developed in 29 of them, and eight of these (27.6%) had on admission endotoxin levels higher than 9.8 pg ml-1. The clinical outcome correlated with the level of tumour necrosis factor α (TNFα), rather than with the endotoxin level. The high interleukin 6 (IL-6) level was shown in septic patients and no correlation was observed between the IL-6 level and the clinical outcome. Plasma TNFα levels tended to change independently from endotoxin levels, suggesting that TNFα may have been locally produced in inflammatory lesions.