Interleukin (IL)-18, a proinflammatory cytokine, has been recognized recently as an important factor in both treated and untreated patients with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection. Consistent with all earlier reports, our quantification of serum IL-18 concentrations in 88 HIV-1 seropositive, North American adolescents (14-18 years old) revealed a positive correlation with cell-free HIV-1 viral load at two separate visits (Spearman's r = 0·31 and 0·50, respectively, P < 0·01 for both), along with a negative correlation with CD4+ T cell counts (r = -0·31 and -0·35, P < 0·01 for both). In additional analyses of 66 adults (21-58 years old) from Zambia, HIV-1 seroconversion was associated uniformly with elevated IL-18 production (P < 0·0001). These epidemiological relationships were independent of other population-related characteristics, including age, gender and ethnicity. In neither study population could serum IL-18 concentrations be associated with the IL-18 gene (IL18) promoter genotypes defined by five major single nucleotide polymorphisms. Collectively, these findings suggest that circulating IL-18 rather than the IL18 genotype may provide a useful biomarker for HIV-1-related events or outcomes. © 2006 British Society for Immunology.