There is compelling evidence that off-pump coronary artery bypass operations are associated with reduced circulating levels of inflammatory mediators. Whereas complement activation and release of acute-phase reactants such as interleukin-6 are still expected to occur as consequences of a nonbypass-related general surgical trauma, a major feature of off-pump surgery seems to be a decreased production of interleukin-8, which may have important practical implications because of the participation of this cytokine in neutrophil trafficking and myocardial injury. The scarcity of carefully controlled, randomized trials precludes firm conclusions regarding the extent to which these biological changes translate into meaningful improvements in clinical outcomes. The problem is further complicated by the fact that the adverse effects of cardiopulmonary bypass largely depend on a genetically controlled balance between proinflammatory and antiinflammatory mediators. Currently, it is still impossible to predict, in a given patient, the side toward which this balance will be shifted. Nevertheless, accumulating experience identifies patient subgroups who may greatly benefit from avoiding extracorporeal circulation. These subsets include patients with severe extracardiac comorbidities (in particular, renal failure) and, possibly, patients with advanced left ventricular dysfunction, who may poorly tolerate superimposed, bypass-related, inflammatory tissue injuries. © 2001 by The Society of Thoracic Surgeons.