Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) is thought to be important in the development of pulmonary fibrosis. However, surfactant protein-C/TNF-alpha transgenic mice do not spontaneously develop pulmonary fibrosis but instead develop alveolar enlargement and loss of elastic recoil. We hypothesized that overexpression of TNF-alpha in the lung requires an additional insult to produce fibrosis. In this study we evaluated whether TNF-alpha overexpression altered the development of pulmonary fibrosis due to bleomycin or transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta). Either 0.2 U bleomycin or saline was administered into left lung of TNF-alpha transgenic mice and their transgene-negative littermates. To overexpress TGF-beta, an adenovirus vector containing either active TGF-beta (AdTGF-beta) or LacZ was administered at a dose of 3 x 108 plaque-forming units per mouse. Fibrosis was assessed histologically and by measurement of hydroxyproline. TNF-alpha transgenic mice tolerated bleomycin or AdTGF-beta, whereas the transgene-negative littermates demonstrated severe pulmonary fibrosis after either agent. An increase in prostaglandin E2 and downregulation of TNF receptor I expression were observed in the TNF-alpha transgenic mice. In addition, recombinant human TNF-alpha attenuated bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. TNF-alpha has a complex role in the development of pulmonary fibrosis. Endogenous TNF-alpha may be important in the development of fibrosis as indicated in other reports, but overexpression of TNF-alpha or exogenous TNF-alpha limits pulmonary fibrosis in mice.