TNF-alpha is considered as one of the potential determinants of insulin resistance. However several data suggest that TNF-alpha expression itself, could be modulated by the degree of adiposity and/or plasma insulin levels. To clarify the determinants of plasma TNF-alpha levels in type 2 diabetes mellitus, we studied the impact of intensive insulin treatment on plasma TNF-alpha levels in 16 type 2 diabetic subjects with failure to oral antidiabetic medication (HbA1c: 10.8 +/- 1.2 %). Furthermore, we analyzed the relationship between plasma TNF-alpha levels and total or regional body fat measurements using anthropometry, bienergetic absorptiometry and computed tomography in a cohort of 33 caucasian obese type 2 diabetic subjects (BMI: 32.2 +/- 4.4 kg/m(2) ). The plasma TNF-alpha level was neither affected by plasma glucose level variations nor intensive insulin treatment despite a 37 % decrease in daily insulin needs at the end of insulin therapy (total duration: 11.5 +/- 2.0 days). The plasma TNF-alpha level was similar in men and women and unrelated to age, fasting glycemia or HbA1c. A relationship was highlighted with BMI (r =0.39, p <0.02), but not with total fat mass. This relationship was only dependent on the intra-abdominal fat mass amount as assessed by the waist-to-hip circumference ratio (r =0.52, p <0.01) and the visceral adipose tissue area (r =0.56, p <0. 01). These results show that plasma TNF-alpha levels are essentially dependent on visceral fat amount, thus suggesting that TNF-alpha could be one of the factors mediating insulin resistance and cardiovascular risk in obese type 2 diabetic patients.