Chronic inflammatory disorders or infections represent a major cause of hyporesponsiveness to recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEpo). To test the hypothesis that dialysate-related cytokine induction alters the response to rHuEpo, we conducted a prospective study with matched pairs of chronic haemodialysis patients. We compared the effect of two dialysis fluids, differing in their microbiological quality, on the rHuEpo therapy. Thirty male patients with end-stage renal disease maintained on regular haemodialysis were assigned either to a group treated with conventional (potentially microbiologically contaminated) dialysate (group I) or to a group treated with online-produced ultrapure dialysate (group II). Randomization was stratified according to the maintenance dose of rHuEpo necessary to maintain a target haemoglobin level of 10-10.5 g/dl. Patients were followed for 12 months. Kt/V was calculated by the formula of Daugirdas. Haemoglobin levels were measured weekly and serum ferritin concentrations were determined at 6-week intervals. C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) was measured by an ELISA at the start of the study and after 3, 6 and 12 months. In group I, continuous use of bicarbonate dialysate did not change the rHuEpo dosage given to achieve the target haemoglobin level and was associated with elevated surrogate markers (CRP, IL-6) of cytokine-induced inflammation. The switch from conventional to online-produced ultrapure dialysate in group II resulted in a lower bacterial contamination with a significant decrease of CRP and IL-6 blood levels. It was accompanied by a significant and sustained reduction of the rHuEpo dosage, which was required to correct the anaemia. Using multiple regression analysis, IL-6 levels are shown to have a strong predictive value for rHuEpo dosage in both groups. Our data demonstrate that dialysate-related factors such as low bacterial contamination can induce the activation of monocytes, resulting in elevated serum levels of IL-6. Dialysate-related cytokine induction might diminish erythropoiesis. The use of pyrogen free ultrapure dialysate resulted in a better response to rHuEpo. Not only would it save money, but it would also help to maintain an optimal haemoglobin level without further increase in rHuEpo dosage.