BACKGROUND: Interleukin (IL)-15 is a novel cytokine with immunoregulatory and angiogenic properties. We compared IL-15 levels in the peritoneal fluid (PF) of women with and without endometriosis. METHODS: PF samples were obtained from 55 women with endometriosis (23 with superficial peritoneal implants, 19 with deep endometriotic implants and 13 with ovarian endometriomas). Eighteen women with normal pelvic anatomy undergoing tubal sterilization served as controls. RESULTS: PF IL-15 concentrations were increased in women with endometriosis (2.7 +/- 0.5 pg/ml) versus controls (2.1 +/- 0.3 pg/ml; P < 0.001). However, IL-15 levels were higher in women with superficial peritoneal implants (2.9 +/- 0.5 pg/ml) than women with deep endometriotic implants (2.6 +/- 0.4 pg/ml; P = 0.01) or ovarian endometriomas (2.2 +/- 0.4 pg/ml; P < 0.001). IL-15 was also higher in women with deep implants than in those with. endometriomas (P < 0.05). PF IL-15 correlated inversely with both depth of invasion (r = -0.52) and the stage of endometriosis (r = -0.42). PF IL-15 levels demonstrated little variation during the menstrual cycle, and did not discriminate between women with infertility or pelvic pain. CONCLUSION: PF IL-15 levels are increased in women with endometriosis. However, IL-15 levels are inversely correlated with the depth of invasion and disease stage, suggesting a possible role for this cytokine in the early pathogenesis of endometriosis.