Previous studies suggest that cytokine-induced tissue inflammation may participate in the pathogenesis of abdominal aortic aneurysms. Serum inflammatory markers may reflect arterial inflammation in asymptomatic phases of the aneurysmal disease. We studied 120 outpatients (62 men; age, 65+/-9 years) by ultrasound evaluation of the abdominal aorta to evaluate the association of circulating levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) with abdominal aortic diameter in subjects with normal aortic size. Aortic diameter was measured at the infrarenal level and indexed for body surface area. Seven patients with abdominal aortic dilatation (indexed aortic diameter, >1.3 cm/m2) were also identified. Plasma concentrations of IL-6, serum amyloid A (SAA), C-reactive protein (CRP), total homocysteine, and lipids were measured. Among the 113 subjects without aortic dilatation, indexed aortic diameter was positively associated with serum levels of IL-6 (P<0.01), SAA (P<0.01), and total homocysteine (P=0.01). IL-6 levels increased in a stepwise fashion among dichotomized groups of aortic size (low and high aortic diameters) and peaked in patients with aortic dilatation (2.3+/-1.2 versus 2. 7+/-0.9 versus 3.2+/-0.9 pg/mL, respectively; P for trend=0.039). None of the serum lipid measurements correlated with abdominal aortic diameter. Although CRP levels were associated with SAA levels (r=0.60; P<0.001), associations between CRP and aortic diameter were nonsignificant. In multivariate analysis, levels of IL-6 (P=0.02), SAA (P=0.001), and total homocysteine (P<0.001) were independent correlates of indexed aortic diameter. In conclusion, circulating levels of IL-6, SAA, and total homocysteine may reflect processes involved in the early phases of abdominal aortic aneurysm formation, before dilation of the abdominal aorta is established. These data support a role for chronic inflammation in the progression of asymptomatic aortic disease.