PURPOSE: Several studies have reported favorable effects of intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG) in refractory epilepsy. Evidence substantiating an immunomodulatory action is scarce. In an open-label study, we prospectively investigated the effect of IVIG on clinical, EEG and serum/CSF immunological parameters in patients with refractory childhood-onset epilepsy. METHODS: Thirteen patients (median age 6.9 years; range 1.6-25.8) with refractory seizures despite 3-4 antiepileptic drug regimens were given IVIG (Sandoglobulin, ZLB-Behring, add-on, 4 x 400 mg/kg/3 weeks). Seizure frequency, 24-h video-EEG, and CSF/serum immunological parameters and cytokine profiles (IL-6/IL-8/IL-12/IL-10) were documented before and after completion of the course. RESULTS: Seizure frequency was reduced by > or = 50% in four, and by 25%-50% in three patients. In contrast, variation in automatically recorded spike counts (1-h-wake and -sleep) did not correlate with clinical improvement. Serum immunological parameters showed variable deviations in eight patients (e.g., IgG(2) deficiency) and CSF immunoblotting showed oligoclonal bands in two patients. Blood-brain barrier permeability was normal in 12 patients. IL-6 and IL-8 were clearly detectable in CSF of all patients; the levels were significantly higher than those in plasma but remained unaffected by IVIG treatment. CONCLUSIONS: Despite unchanged EEG spike counts, substantial reductions in seizure frequency occurred in 7 of 13 patients, suggesting that IVIG hinder progression of central epileptic activity into clinical seizures. Intrathecal presence of IL-8 and IL-6 was documented in all patients, but was unaffected by IVIG, suggesting that their production is directly related to electrical seizure activity and that IVIG may act through interference with immune pathways downstream to IL-6 and IL-8.