Interleukin 1 (IL-1) has been shown to regulate several immunologic functions. Since tumor necrosis factor (TNF) shares many biologic properties with IL-1, we have investigated here the role of TNF in the modulation of the immune response. We have thus tested low doses of human recombinant TNF-alpha (hu rTNF-alpha) for its capacity to enhance the in vivo antibody responses evaluated at the cellular level in the hemolytic plaque assay. It was found that hu rTNF-alpha, like human IL-1 beta, is able to enhance the immune response to a T cell-dependent antigen (sheep red blood cells). Interestingly, at variance with human recombinant IL-1 beta, hu rTNF-alpha was not able to enhance the in vivo antibody response to a T cell-independent antigen (type III pneumococcal polysaccharide). These results suggest that low levels of TNF may have a role in the modulation of the immune response in vivo and shed new light on the biologic significance of this mediator.