The induction of 1-hydroxylase in alveolar macrophages by tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) was examined in view of recent evidence suggesting that local production of 1,25-(OH)2D3 may play a role in the regulation of immune functions. Incubation of pulmonary alveolar macrophages from normal human subjects with recombinant TNF caused a 2- to 10-fold increase in 25-hydroxyvitamin D3-1-hydroxylase activity. The dose-response curve was linear over the range 0.05-5.0 IU/ml, and no further increase was seen at higher concentrations. The increase in 1-hydroxylase activity was present after 12 h and reached a maximum after 3 days. The effect of TNF was inhibited in a dose-dependent manner by the presence of 1,25(OH)2D3 (10(-10)-10(-8) M) in the incubation media for 5 days but was unaffected by 10(-9) M 1,25(OH)2D3 after 12 h. The enhancement of macrophage 1-hydroxylase activity by TNF was comparable to that induced by gamma interferon (IFN) but the effects of maximal doses of both agents were not additive. The presence of antibody to TNF resulted in a 76% inhibition of TNF-induced 1-hydroxylase but had no significant effect on IFN-induced 1-hydroxylase activity.