BACKGROUND: Cachexia is common in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is thought to be linked to an enhanced systemic inflammatory response. OBJECTIVE: We investigated differences in the systemic inflammatory profile and polymorphisms in related inflammatory genes in COPD patients. DESIGN: A cross-sectional study was performed in 99 patients with COPD (Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease stages II-IV), who were stratified by cachexia based on fat-free mass index (FFMI; in kg/m2: <16 for men and <15 for women) and compared with healthy control subjects (HCs). Body composition was determined by bioelectrical impedance analysis. Plasma concentrations and gene polymorphisms of interleukin 1beta (IL-1beta -511), IL-6 (IL-6 -174), and the tumor necrosis factor system (TNF-alpha -308 and lymphotoxin-alpha +252) were determined. Plasma C-reactive protein, leptin, and urinary pseudouridine (as a marker of cellular protein breakdown) were measured. RESULTS: Fat mass, leptin, and pseudouridine were significantly different (P < 0.001) between noncachectic patients (NCPs) and cachectic patients (CPs: n = 35); the systemic inflammatory cytokine profile was not. NCPs had a body compositional shift toward a lower fat-free mass and a higher fat mass compared with HCs. CPs and NCPs had a greater systemic inflammatory response (P < 0.05) than did HCs, as reflected in C-reactive protein, soluble TNF-R75, and IL-6 concentrations. The overall distribution of the IL-1beta -511 polymorphism was significantly different between the groups (P < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: In COPD patients, who are characterized by an elevated systemic inflammatory response, cachexia is not discriminatory for the extent of increase in inflammatory status. This study, however, indicates a potential influence of genetic predisposition on the cachexia process.