Crohn's disease (CD) is a multifactorial disease with genetic heterogeneity. TNF-alpha plays a key role in the development of the mucosal lesions. The aim of our work was to study a single base pair polymorphism located in the promoter region of TNF gene, in a large population of CD patients with well defined phenotypes. One hundred and ninety-three patients with CD and 98 ethnically matched controls were studied. The -308 single base pair polymorphism of TNF gene was studied using an allele-specific polymerase chain reaction. Genotype and allelic frequencies were compared between patients and controls and between subgroups of patients defined by sex, age at diagnosis, familial history, location of disease, type of disease, extra-intestinal manifestations, and response to steroid treatment. In 29 patients a measure of TNF-alpha production by colonic biopsies was performed. The frequency of the allele TNF2 as well as the proportion of carriers of the allele TNF2 were slightly but not significantly lower in CD than in controls (11.9% versus 14.8% and 21.5% versus 27.6%, respectively). A more prominent difference in frequencies of allele TNF2 and in proportions of TNF2 carriers was found when comparing subgroups of patients. The frequency of allele TNF2 was significantly higher in steroid-dependent than in non-steroid-dependent disease (28.1% versus 10.3%; Delta = 17.8%, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 6.3-29.5%, P = 0.0027) and tended to be higher in colonic than in small bowel disease and in fistulizing than in stricturing disease. Furthermore, TNF2 carriers tended to be more frequent in patients with steroid-dependent than non-steroid-dependent disease (43.8% versus 19.3%; Delta = 24.5%, 95% CI = 3.6-45.4%, P = 0.022), in patients with fistulizing than stricturing disease (26.5% versus 9.6%; Delta = 16.9%, 95% CI = 1. 1-32.6%, P = 0.036), and in patients with colonic than small bowel disease (26.5% versus 11.1%; Delta = 15.4%, 95% CI = -0.8-31.6%, P = 0.063). Finally, patients carrying at least one copy of allele 2 were found to produce slightly more TNF-alpha at the colonic level. The -308 TNF gene polymorphism may have a slight influence on the behaviour of CD. The carriage of allele 2 may favour steroid-dependent disease and to a lesser extent fistulizing and colonic disease, possibly secondary to a more intense TNF-alpha-driven inflammatory reaction at the mucosal level.