Certain cytokines that are produced in liver may act as growth factors to facilitate wound healing and, hence, may influence liver regeneration. However, this hypothesis has not been directly tested. To determine whether the cytokine response evoked by partial hepatectomy (PH) modulates the process of liver regeneration, adult male rats were injected intraperitoneally with either goat polyclonal antibodies to rat tumor necrosis factor (TNF; 15 micrograms/g body wt) or an equal amount of goat anti-rat immunoglobulin G 1 h before PH. Animals were killed at 12, 24, 48, or 72 h post-PH, 1 h after injection with [3H]thymidine. Serum TNF levels were measured with the L929 cytotoxicity assay, titers of antibody to TNF were determined by enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay, and interleukin-6 (IL-6) concentrations were measured by B9 cell bioassay. Liver regeneration was assessed by [3H]thymidine incorporation into hepatic DNA and by immunohistochemical evidence of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) expression. Antibodies to TNF were detected in treated rats but not in controls. Titers were highest at 12 h and progressively fell. Although TNF was never detected in serum, treatment with anti-TNF pre-PH significantly inhibited increases in serum IL-6 concentration post-PH. Anti-TNF pretreatment also inhibited [3H]thymidine incorporation into DNA, as well as expression of PCNA by both hepatocytes and liver nonparenchymal cells. These data indicate that TNF positively modulates liver regeneration after PH.