The systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) in acute liver failure (ALF), in which infection is common, has not been studied. In this study, SIRS components were recorded on admission and during episodes of infection, in 887 ALF patients admitted to a single center during an 11-year period. Overall, 504 (56.8%) patients manifested a SIRS during their illness, with a maximum of 1, 2, and 3 concurrent SIRS components in 166, 238, and 100 patients, respectively. In 353 (39.8%) patients who did not become infected, a SIRS on admission was associated with a more critical illness, subsequent worsening of encephalopathy, and death. Infected patients more often developed a SIRS and one of greater magnitude. The magnitude of the SIRS in 273 patients with bacterial infection correlated with mortality, being 16.7%, 28.4%, 41.2%, and 64.7% in patients with 0, 1, 2, and 3 maximum concurrent SIRS components, respectively. Similar correlations with mortality were seen for SIRS associated with fungal infection, bacteremia, and bacterial chest infection. Fifty-nine percent of patients with severe sepsis died, as did 98% of those with septic shock. A significant association was found between progressive encephalopathy and infection. Infected patients with progressive encephalopathy manifested more SIRS components than other infected patients. For patients with a SIRS, the proportions of infected and noninfected patients manifesting worsening encephalopathy were similar. In ALF, the SIRS, whether or not precipitated by infection, appears to be implicated in the progression of encephalopathy, reducing the chances of transplantation and conferring a poorer prognosis.