Tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha) is a multifunctional cytokine that exerts a myriad of biological actions in numerous different tissues including adipocytes through its two distinct cell surface receptors. To address the role of each TNF receptor in the biological actions of TNFalpha in adipocytes, we have developed four new preadipocyte cell lines. These were established from wild type controls (TNFR1(+/+)R2(+/+)) and from mice lacking TNFR1 (TNFR1(-/-)), TNFR2 (TNFR2(-/-)) or both (TNFR1(-/-)R2(-/-)). All four new cell lines can fully differentiate to form mature adipocytes, under appropriate culture conditions, as judged by cell morphology, expression of multiple adipogenic markers and the ability to mediate agonist-stimulated lipolysis and insulin-stimulated glucose transport. In wild type (TNFR1(+/+)R2(+/+)) and TNFR2(-/-) adipocytes, TNFalpha stimulated lipolysis and inhibited insulin-stimulated glucose transport as well as insulin receptor autophosphorylation. In contrast, these activities were completely lost in the TNFR1(-/-)R2(-/-) and TNFR1(-/-) cells. Taken together, these studies demonstrate that TNFalpha-induced lipolysis, as well as inhibition of insulin-stimulated glucose transport are predominantly mediated by TNFR1 and that the presence of TNFR2 is not necessary for these functions. This new experimental system promises to be useful in dissecting the molecular pathways activated by each TNF receptor in mediating the biological functions of TNFalpha in differentiated adipocytes.