We have devised a luminescence sandwich ELISA for the quantification of IL-6 in both sera and cell culture supernatants, which had a detection limit of 100 fg/ml of test sample. By using the luminescence sandwich-ELISA, low but measurable levels of IL-6 (9.5 pg/ml on average) were found in the sera from normal individuals. The serum levels of IL-6 were elevated in HIV-seropositive asymptomatic carriers (55.5 pg/ml on average), and the IL-6 levels were correlated with the degree of HIV-induced disease progression (AIDS-related complex 106.8 pg/ml on average and (AIDS 283 pg/ml). IL-6 immunoreactivity in the sera of AIDS patients eluted at a 25,000 m.w. major peak, which was biologically active and heat-stable, and a 500,000 m.w. minor peak in size-exclusion HPLC. Interestingly, a significant correlation was observed between the serum IL-6 levels and soluble IL-2R levels. In vitro, HIV infection of PHA-activated PBMC led to enhanced release of IL-6 into the culture supernatants. Moreover, soluble IL-2R release was markedly increased by adding exogenous IL-6, whereas it was decreased by adding the neutralizing anti-IL-6 mAb to the cultures. These results demonstrate that increased IL-6 levels are significantly associated with sIL-2R levels, and suggest a cause of the increased levels of this receptor in patients with HIV infection. Furthermore, both serum IL-6 and serum IL-2R levels in HIV infection reflect the stage of the HIV-induced disease.