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Mortality in patients with septic shock remains unacceptably high and the attempts to antagonize certain proinflammatory cytokines based on the results of animal model studies have failed to improve survival rates. The objective of this article is to examine the pro-/anti-inflammatory cytokine balance in patients with septic shock and its connection with mortality.Serum levels of proinflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-α [TNF-α], interleukin 1β [IL-1β], interferon-γ [IFN-γ], and IL-6) and soluble cytokine antagonists (soluble TNF receptor I [sTNF-RI], sTNF-RII, and IL-1Ra) were determined on admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) and 3, 7, 14, and 28 days later in 52 patients with septic shock and in 36 healthy controls. Specific sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was used for all determinations.Serum levels of most of the pro- and anti-inflammatory molecules examined (TNF-α, IL-6, sTNF-RI, sTNF-RII, and IL-1 receptor agonist [IL-1Ra]) were significantly elevated on admission and during the 28-day observation period in patients when compared to controls. Notably, the anti-inflammatory mediators sTNF-RI, sTNF-RII, and IL-1Ra were better predictors of mortality. Receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) analysis revealed that sTNF-RI or sTNF-RII concentrations over 2767 or 4619 pg/mL, respectively, determined a high risk of death (sensitivity: 100%-100%, specificity: 57.1%-71.4%, area under the curve [AUC] 0.759–0.841, respectively), whereas IL-1Ra concentrations below 7033 pg/mL determined a high probability of survival (sensitivity: 60%, specificity: 100%, AUC 0.724). In addition, IFN-γ levels were significantly higher in survivors than in controls during the initial 2 weeks of observation.Our data show that serum cytokine disturbance patterns have prognostic significance in patients with septic shock admitted to the ICU. The pattern, defined by an early response to continuously elevated anti-inflammatory cytokine serum levels, is associated with an enhanced risk of a fatal outcome for patients.