An immunologic pathogenesis for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has been recently proposed. We tested the whole tumour necrosis factor (TNF) system in the serum of 51 ALS patients at different stages of the disease and 36 healthy controls. Antigenic TNF-alpha and its soluble receptors (sTNF-Rs), measured by ELISA, were significantly higher in ALS patients than in healthy controls. However, biologically active TNF-alpha, corresponding to the sTNF-Rs-unbound trimeric TNFalpha molecule and assayed by its cytotoxic activity on a sensitive cell line, was similar between ALS patients and healthy controls. Neither antigenic TNF-alpha, bioactive TNF-alpha nor sTNF-Rs correlated with disease severity, disease duration, or weight loss. In conclusion, we reported an activation of the TNF system in ALS. The role of this activation in the pathogenesis of the disease remains elusive.