The relatively recent development of genetically engineered agents has the potential to alter the treatment of Crohn's disease radically, and drugs that inhibit tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha) have been introduced as a new therapeutic class with high efficacy, rapid onset of action, prolonged effect, and improved tolerance. However these agents are expensive and at least one-third of the eligible patients fail to show any useful response. Finding a means to predict those who will respond, and to anticipate relapse are, therefore, of obvious importance. T helper-type 1 (Th1) lymphocytes orchestrate much of the inflammation in Crohn's disease mainly via production of TNFalpha, which appears to play a pivotal role as a pro-inflammatory cytokine. It exerts its effects through its own family of receptors (TNFR1 and TNFR2), the end results of which include apoptosis, c-Jun N-terminal kinase/stress-activated protein kinase (JNK/SAPK) activation and NF-kappaB activation. Activated NF-kappaB enters the nucleus and induces transcription of genes associated with inflammation, host defense and cell survival. The promoter region of the TNF gene lies between nucleotides -1 and -1300, and encompasses numerous polymorphic sites associated with potential binding sites for various transcription factors. Carriers of the TNF allele 2 (TNF2), which contains a single base-pair polymorphism at the -308 promoter position, produce slightly more TNFalpha in their intestinal mucosa than non-TNF2 carriers. TNF polymorphisms also appear to influence the nature and frequency of extraintestinal manifestations of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). A number of routes of inhibition of TNF are being investigated. Most extensively evaluated is the use of monoclonal antibodies against TNFalpha (e.g. infliximab). Several large controlled trials indicate that infliximab has a role in treating patients with moderate to severely active Crohn's disease and in fistulating Crohn's disease. Although it would be useful to genetically differentiate 'responders' from 'non-responders,' currently there are few published data on TNF polymorphisms in IBD, and often only selected polymorphisms are genotyped. Small studies have shown possible associations between poor response to infliximab and increasing mucosal levels of activated NF-kappaB, homozygosity for the polymorphism in exon 6 of TNFR2 (genotype Arg196Arg), positivity for perinuclear antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA), and with the presence of increased numbers of activated lamina propia mononuclear cells producing interferon-gamma and TNFalpha. This is a rapidly changing field, and more information of greater direct clinical benefit can be expected soon.