Although TNF-alpha is traditionally associated with macrophage activation during neoplasia and acute inflammation, recent Northern blot hybridization studies indicate that gene expression occurs in the absence of pathology. In order to identify the cellular sources of endogenous message and protein, normal mouse tissues were tested for TNF-alpha mRNA using in situ hybridization and for the corresponding protein by immunocytochemistry. Unexpectedly, specific TNF-alpha message was readily detected in hepatocytes, kidney tubule epithelial cells, various populations of spleen cells and neurons. TNF-alpha protein was present in the same liver and kidney cells as those that contained TNF-alpha mRNA, was low in spleen cells, and was absent in neurons. These results suggest that cells other than macrophages are the major sources of TNF-alpha gene products in normal tissues, indicate that regulation is accomplished by more than one mechanism, and are consistent with the postulate that products of this gene contribute to normal physiological processes.