A 14,700-kDa protein (14.7K) encoded by the E3 region of adenovirus has been shown to protect adenovirus-infected mouse C3HA cells from lysis by tumor necrosis factor (TNF) (L. R. Gooding, L. W. Elmore, A. E. Tollefson, H. A. Brady, and W. S. M. Wold, Cell 53:341-346, 1988). These infected cells are sensitized to TNF by expression of the adenovirus E1A proteins (P. Duerksen-Hughes, W. S. M. Wold, and L. R. Gooding, J. Immunol. 143:4193-4200, 1989). In this study we show that 14.7K suppresses TNF cytolysis independently of adenovirus infection. Mouse C3HA and C127 cells were transfected with the 14.7K gene controlled by the mouse metallothionein promoter, and permanent 14.7K-expressing cell lines were tested for sensitivity to TNF cytolysis. Transfected cells which were sensitized to TNF either by inhibitors of protein synthesis, microfilament-destabilizing agents, or adenovirus infection were found to be resistant to TNF cytolysis. Two monoclonal antibodies were isolated and used to quantitate 14.7K in transfected and infected cells. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) analysis with these monoclonal antibodies and 14.7K immunoblots showed that 14.7K expression can be induced with cadmium in C3HA and C127 transfectants. The 14.7K induction correlated with a dose-dependent decrease in sensitivity to TNF cytotoxicity. The 14.7K protein does not substantially alter cell surface TNF receptor numbers or affinity on C3HA mouse fibroblasts, as determined by Scatchard analysis of 125I-TNF binding. The 14.7K protein also does not alter TNF signal transduction in general, because TNF induction of cell surface class I major histocompatibility complex molecules on 14.7K transfectants was unmodified. Our findings indicate that the adenovirus 14.7K protein functions as a specific inhibitor of TNF cytolysis in the absence of other adenovirus proteins and thus is a unique tool to study the mechanism of TNF cytotoxicity.