The regulation of monocyte function and the inhibition of TNF-alpha production during bacterial sepsis are critical in attenuating adverse host responses to endotoxemia. To study the function of a novel receptor tyrosine kinase, mer, that is expressed in monocytes, we generated mice (merkd) that lack the signaling tyrosine kinase domain. Upon LPS challenge, merkd animals died of endotoxic shock (15/17, 88.2%), whereas control wild-type mice survived (1/15, 6.7% died). Susceptible merkd mice exhibited edema, leukocyte infiltration, and signs of endotoxic shock that correlated with higher levels of TNF-alpha found in the serum of merkd mice as compared with wild-type control animals. Death due to LPS-induced endotoxic shock in merkd mice was blocked by administration of anti-TNF-alpha Ab, suggesting that overproduction of this cytokine was principally responsible for the heightened suseptibility. The increase in TNF-alpha production appeared to be the result of a substantial increase in the LPS-dependent activation of NF-kappa B nuclear translocation resulting in greater TNF-alpha production by macrophages from merkd mice. Thus, Mer receptor tyrosine kinase signaling participates in a novel inhibitory pathway in macrophages important for regulating TNF-alpha secretion and attenuating endotoxic shock.