Neonatal early-onset sepsis (EOS) is associated with high morbidity and mortality. Accurate early diagnosis is crucial for prompt treatment and a better clinical outcome. We aimed to identify new biomarkers for the diagnosis of EOS. A total of 152 neonates with a risk of EOS were divided into an EOS group and a non-EOS group according to the conventional diagnostic criteria. Blood samples were collected within 0-24, 24-48, and 48-72 h after birth. Serum levels of progranulin (PGRN), interleukin (IL)-33, IL-17a, IL-23, IL-6, tumor necrosis factors α (TNF-α), interferon γ (IFN-γ), granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), procalcitonin (PCT), and C-reactive protein (CRP) were determined. PGRN levels were significantly elevated in the EOS neonates compared with the levels in the non-EOS neonates (1.53 vs. 0.77 ng/ml (median), P < 0.001), with an area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve (AUC) of 0.76 (P 0.70) but slightly less predictive power for EOS within the same time range. Stepwise multivariate regression analysis identified PGRN, IL-33, and PCT as independent predictors of EOS. In addition, the combined measurements of PGRN, IL-33, and PCT showed significantly higher predictive power for EOS than any of the three markers alone. PGRN showed greater efficacy for predicting EOS than the traditional markers PCT and CRP as well as other potential markers tested in this study. PGRN may serve as an effective biomarker for the early diagnosis of EOS.