It is well known that, subsequent to cardiopulmonary bypass, and particularly in children, an inflammatory response within the body can often result in a characteristic syndrome. Recently, it has been suggested that this phenomenon is due to a systemic inflammatory response, with significant involvement of cytokines. With this in mind, we investigated the behavior of tumour necrosis factor-α and interleukin–6 during the operative and in the immediate postoperative period in a group of children submitted to open heart surgery. We investigated any possible relation between the levels of these cytokines in the serum and the length of cardiopulmonary bypass, with the serum levels of lactate, and with the extent of use of inotropic drugs in postoperative period. The cytokines were measured in samples withdrawn after induction of anesthesia, after 10 minutes of cardiopulmonary bypass, after re-establishment of circulation, and then 2 and 24 hours after the end of cardiopulmonary bypass. The levels of tumour necrosis factor-α and interleukin–6 increased between the beginning and at two hours of the end of cardiopulmonary bypass. There was no correlation between the levels of these cytokines in the serum and the length of cardiopulmonary bypass, although there was a positive relation between levels of interleukin–6 and lactate in samples withdrawn at two hours of the end of bypass, and the measured levels of the cytokines correlated with the extent of inotropic drugs employed in the postoperative period.