To investigate the hypothesis that Th1 phenotype cytokines are associated with the increasing activity of hepatitis and Th2 phenotype cytokines with decreasing activity in the liver of chronic viral hepatitis, expressions of the mRNA of the cytokines IL-2, IFN-γ and IL-4 in the liver of 23 patients with chronic hepatitis B were investigated by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. Patients were divided into three groups according to the phase of acute exacerbation of hepatitis as increasing (n= 9), decreasing (n= 8), and stable phase (n= 6). Both IL-2 and IFN-γ mRNA were preferentially expressed in increasing phase than in decreasing phase (P < 0.01, P < 0.05, respectively) and associated with the high serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) level. On the other hand, IL-4 mRNA was detected in decreasing phase with significant frequency compared with increasing phase (P < 0.05). However, expression of IL-4 mRNA was not associated with serum ALT level. Our results suggest that Th1 phenotype cytokines up-regulate and Th2 phenotype cytokines down-regulate the liver inflammation of chronic viral hepatitis.