Cytokines play an important role in controlling the homoeostasis of the immune system. Infection with HIV results in dysregulation of the cytokine profile in vivo and in vitro. During the course of HIV-1 infection secretion of T-helper type 1 (Th1) cytokines, such as interleukin (IL)-2, and antiviral interferon (IFN)-gamma, is generally decreased, whereas production of T helper type 2 (Th2) cytokines, IL-4, IL-10, proinflammatory cytokines (IL-1, IL-6, IL-8) and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, is increased. Such abnormal cytokine production contributes to the pathogenesis of the disease by impairing cell-mediated immunity. A number of cytokines have been shown to modulate in vitro HIV-1 infection and replication in both CD4 T lymphocytes and cells of macrophage lineage. HIV-inductive cytokines include: TNF-alpha, TNF-beta, IL-1 and IL-6, which stimulate HIV-1 replication in T cells and monocyte-derived macrophages (MDM), IL-2, IL-7 and IL-15, which upregulate HIV-1 in T cells, and macrophage-colony stimulating factor, which stimulates HIV-1 in MDM. HIV-suppressive cytokines include: IFN-alpha, IFN-beta and IL-16, which inhibit HIV-1 replication in T cells and MDM, and IL-10 and IL-13, which inhibit HIV-1 in MDM. Bifunctional cytokines such as IFN-gamma, IL-4 and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor have been shown to have both inhibitory and stimulatory effects on HIV-1. The beta-chemokines, macrophage-inflammatory protein (MIP)-1alpha, MIP-1beta and RANTES are important inhibitors of macrophage-tropic strains of HIV-1, whereas the alpha-chemokine stromal-derived factor-1 suppresses infection of T-tropic strains of HIV-1. This review outlines the interactions between cytokines and HIV-1, and presents clinical applications of cytokine therapy combined with highly active antiretroviral therapy or vaccines.