Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) was demonstrated in human normal and atherosclerotic aorta, iliac and femoral arteries by immunohistochemistry using monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies. TNF was present in the cells of the arterial wall and as granular and diffuse extracellular deposits in the connective tissue matrix. Quantitative determinations of TNF by ELISA showed mean values of 21.7 +/- 0.7 ng/100 mg total extracted protein in normal intima, 38.2 +/- 0.5 in intimal thickenings, 25.5 +/- 1.1 in fibrous plaques and 16.8 +/- 0.2 ng/100 mg total extracted protein in media. Intimal thickenings presented the highest amounts of TNF with a statistically significant difference when compared to normal intima (P less than 0.05) and media (P less than 0.01). TNF-alpha concentrations in arterial eluates were about 200 times higher than in the corresponding serum samples. Western blotting analysis confirmed TNF-alpha eluted from the arterial wall to be about 17 kDa similar to human recombinant TNF-alpha. TNF-alpha in human atherosclerotic wall could be actively involved in the inflammatory events associated with atherosclerosis.