Abstract Background The relationship between the various cytokine responses that occur during sepsis remains controversial. Emerging evidence indicates that the proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses are regulated simultaneously from the beginning of sepsis. However, the roles of the novel anti-inflammatory mediators annexin (Anx)A1 and lipoxin (LX)A4 and the proinflammatory cytokines neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin (NGAL) and macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-3a have been studied. Methods In this study, the plasma levels of AnxA1, LXA4, NGAL, MIP-3a, interleukin (IL)-8 and IL-6 in patients with sepsis were determined on admission to the intensive care unit. The patients were classified into survivors and non-survivors based on their outcome on day 28. Results AnxA1 and LXA4 levels were decreased in sepsis patients compared with control patients, whereas the levels of the proinflammatory cytokines MIP-3a, NGAL, IL-8, and IL-6 were elevated. Furthermore, a significantly higher level of MIP-3a was detected in nonsurviving patients compared with surviving patients (p < 0.05), whereas there were no significant differences between these two groups for the levels of the other mediators. Correlation analysis demonstrated that only NGAL level was closely correlated with the level of IL-6. Univariate analysis indicated that the levels of MIP-3a and IL-8 were independent factors associated with patient survival, but this was not confirmed by the multivariate analysis. Conclusion AnxA1 and LXA4 plasma levels were found to be decreased in sepsis patients, whereas the levels of MIP-3a and NGAL were found to be elevated. This warrants further study in order to determine the clinical implications of these changes.