Tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF alpha) is a multifunctional cytokine belonging to a family of ligands with an associated family of receptor proteins. The pleiotropic actions of TNF range from proliferative responses such as cell growth and differentiation, to inflammatory effects and the mediation of immune responses, to destructive cellular outcomes such as apoptotic and necrotic cell death mechanisms. Activated TNF receptors mediate the association of distinct adaptor proteins that regulate a variety of signalling processes including kinase or phosphatase activation, lipase stimulation, and protease induction. Moreover, the cytokine regulates the activities of transcription factors, heterotrimeric or monomeric G-proteins and calcium ion homeostasis in order to orchestrate its cellular functions. This review addresses the structural basis of TNF signalling, the pathways employed with their cellular consequences, and focuses on the specific role played by each of the two TNF receptor isotypes, TNFR1 and TNFR2.