BACKGROUND: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder, with a considerable genetic influence on susceptibility and disease course. Cytokines play an important role in MS pathophysiology, and genes encoding various cytokines are logical candidates to assess possible associations with MS susceptibility and disease course. We previously reported an association of a combination of polymorphisms in the interleukin (IL)-1B and IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1RN) genes (i.e. IL-1RN allele 2+/IL-1B(+3959)allele 2-) with disease severity in MS. Extending this observation, we investigated whether IL-1beta and IL-1ra production differed depending on carriership of this gene combination. METHODS: Twenty MS patients and 20 controls were selected based upon carriership of the specific combination. In whole blood, in vitro IL-1beta and IL-1ra production was determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent-assay after 6 and 24 h of stimulation with lipopolysaccharide. RESULTS: Carriers of the specific combination produced more IL-1ra, especially in MS patients, although not significantly. IL-1ra production was significantly higher in individuals homozygous for IL-1RN allele 2. In patients, Il-1ra production was higher and IL-1beta production lower compared with controls. In primary progressive patients, the IL-1beta /IL-1ra ratio was significantly lower than in relapsing-remitting patients. CONCLUSION: Our results suggest higher in vitro IL-1ra production in carriers of IL-1RN allele 2, with an indication of an allelic dose-effect relationship.