Abstract: Reactive hemophagocytic syndrome (RHS) is a disease of overwhelming macrophage activity triggered by infection, malignancy or autoimmune disorders. Currently used laboratory markers for the quantitative assessment of monocyte/macrophage activation lack lineage-restricted expression patterns and thus specificity. Serum levels of the macrophage specific scavenger receptor CD163 were detemined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and were found to be highly increased in patients with RHS (median 39.0 mg/L). Significantly lower levels were determined in patients with sepsis (median 9.1 mg/L), acute mononucleosis (median 8.2 mg/L), Leishmania infection (median 6.7 mg/L) and healthy controls (median 1.8 mg/L). Follow-up of patients with a relapsing course of the disease revealed close correlations of sCD163 with clinical disease activity, serum ferritin and other markers of macrophage activity. Large sinusoidal accumulations of CD163 expressing macrophages actively engaged in phagocytosis of blood cells were detected in spleen sections of RHS patients. Our data suggests sCD163 to be a macrophage-specific marker in patients with disorders of inappropriate macrophage activation.