Immunization of DBA/1 mice with type II collagen within complete Freund's adjuvant leads to arthritis, lasting more than 3 months. Injection of anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) IgG, 2 and 3 weeks after immunization prevented the development of arthritis in the following months. This treatment had no effect when started 2 months after induction of the disease. A soluble form of the human recombinant TNF receptor type-beta (rsTNFR-beta), continuously infused at a rate of 20 micrograms/day during the second and third week after immunization, also had a long-term protective effect. Anti-TNF antibody had no effect upon the production of anti-type II collagen antibodies. These results indicate that TNF is critically involved in an early phase of this arthritis.