To evaluate cytokine balance related to cardiopulmonary bypass, we prospectively investigated 11 infants undergoing cardiac operations for congenital heart disease. Proinflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor- α and interleukin-8) and the antiinflammatory cytokine interleukin-10 were measured at multiple time points before, during, and after bypass. Tumor necrosis factor-α and interleukin-8 values were within normal range before the operation. These values increased significantly during bypass, reaching their peaks after protamine administration (tumor necrosis factor-α, 133.6 ± 124.9 pg/ml; mean ± standard deviation; p < 0.005) and 2 hours after termination of the procedure (interleukin-8, 92.1 ± 44.1 pg/ml; p < 0.01). Tumor necrosis factor-α and interleukin-8 equaled normal prebypass values from the first postoperative day on. Interleukin-10 levels were within normal range before the operation and were already significantly increased 10 minutes after initiation of bypass (interleukin-10, 39.4 ± 34.3 pg/ml; p < 0.05). These levels remained elevated throughout the procedure but returned to normal after protamine administration. A second significant release of interleukin-10 occurred from the early postoperative period on, reaching its peak 24 hours after termination of cardiopulmonary bypass (interleukin-10, 351.6 ± 304.0 pg/ml; p < 0.01). Interleukin-10 values were normal on the second postoperative day in all patients. Interleukin-10 kinetics showed an inverse pattern compared with tumor necrosis factor-α and interleukin-8. This difference suggests an interplay between proinflammatory and antiinflammatory cytokines released during and after cardiopulmonary bypass. Interleukin-10 levels measured 4 and 24 hours after bypass strongly correlated with the degree of hypothermia during bypass (Spearman's correlation coefficient, -0.77 [p < 0.01] and -0.89 [p < 0.0005], respectively); these levels did not correlate with duration of bypass and aortic crossclamping, however. This result suggests that besides immunologically mediated production of interleukin-10, hypothermia itself could modulate interleukin-10 production. In conclusion, this study demonstrates interleukin-10 production, in addition to interleukin-8 and tumor necrosis factor-α synthesis, in response to cardiopulmonary bypass in infants. Interleukin-10 could play a protective role by down-regulating proinflammatory cytokine release during and after cardiopulmonary bypass.