The role of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF; cachectin) in angiogenesis has been controversial. In vitro TNF inhibits proliferation of endothelial cells (EC) whereas in the cornea it appears to stimulate vessel growth. The authors tested TNF in their recently developed disc angiogenesis system (DAS), designed to measure the proliferation of microvessels. The DAS, implanted subcutaneously in mice, was either fitted with a central pellet containing mouse recombinant TNF (mrTNF), or exposed to mrTNF delivered subcutaneously by an osmotic minipump. Low doses of mrTNF (0.01-1 ng) induced angiogenesis, which was maximum at 0.1 ng, whereas high doses (1, and 5 micrograms) inhibited it. Subcutaneous mrTNF delivered at the (high) rate of 15-60 ng/hr for 14 days inhibited angiogenesis. These results indicate bimodal, dose-dependent opposing effects and explain some of the in vitro versus in vivo paradoxical results. TNF (native or exogenous) may have opposing effects on microvessels of neoplasms and inflammatory reactions, depending on its local tissue concentrations.