Recent investigations have demonstrated a local inflammatory response in Alzheimer's disease (AD), including microglia and cytokines. Levels of the cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) in sera from patients with AD and age-matched controls were measured by an enzyme-linked immunoassay and a cytotoxicity bioassay. Significantly elevated levels of TNF were found in AD sera compared to controls. Elevated circulating TNF may be derived from the local CNS inflammatory reaction in AD, and may account for some systemic manifestations of AD such as weight loss. Future studies may determine if, in the absence of complicating disorders which may elevate TNF, circulating TNF could be a marker of AD inflammatory activity.