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We measured plasma levels of interleukin-1β (IL-1β), tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) following thermal injury. Cytokine levels in the plasma of 27 burned patients were serially screened by ELISA and compared with cytokine levels in 16 healthy laboratory employees. The relationships between cytokine concentrations and patient mortality, burn size, and time postburn were examined. Plasma samples with detectable amounts of IL-1β and IL-6 were significantly more frequent in burned patients than in controls, whereas TNFα was undetectable in most plasma samples. All nonsurviving burned patients had detectable IL-6 levels; these were significantly higher than those of surviving patients. The IL-1β and IL-6 concentrations were highest during the first week after injury and declined over time. The IL-1β concentrations were positively correlated with burn size. These findings suggest that IL-1β and IL-6 may influence metabolic and immunologic responses in the first few weeks following thermal injury. Tumor necrosis factor α was transiently elevated in a small subpopulation of burned patients with no obvious relationship to burn size or time postburn.