OBJECTIVE: Previous reports suggest that cytokines act as potential mediators of the interaction between the immune and neuroendocrine systems, and that a proinflammatory state may be associated with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The aim is to compare cytokine levels in both disorders. METHOD: Twenty euthymic bipolar disorder patients, 53 chronic stabilized schizophrenia patients and 80 healthy controls were recruited. Subjects were all non-smokers and non-obese. Cytokines TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-10 were examined by sandwich ELISA. RESULTS: IL-6 levels were increased in schizophrenia patients when compared to controls (p < 0.0001) and euthymic bipolar disorder patients (p < 0.0001). IL-6 levels were no different in controls compared to euthymic bipolar disorder patients (p = 0.357). IL-10 was lower in controls compared to schizophrenia patients (p = 0.001) or to bipolar disorder patients (p = 0.004). There was no significant difference in TNF-α serum levels among the groups (p = 0.284). Gender-based classification did not significantly alter these findings, and no correlation was found between the antipsychotic dose administered and cytokine levels in patients with schizophrenia. DISCUSSION: These findings evidence a chronic immune activation in schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder seems to present an episode-related inflammatory syndrome. Increased anti-inflammatory factor IL-10 in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia suggests different patterns of inflammatory balance between these two disorders. Results further support the need to investigate cytokines as possible biomarkers of disease activity or treatment response.