The nuclear factor kappaB (NF-kappaB) transcription factor regulates cellular stress responses and the immune response to infection. NF-kappaB activation results in oscillations in nuclear NF-kappaB abundance. To define the function of these oscillations, we treated cells with repeated short pulses of tumor necrosis factor-alpha at various intervals to mimic pulsatile inflammatory signals. At all pulse intervals that were analyzed, we observed synchronous cycles of NF-kappaB nuclear translocation. Lower frequency stimulations gave repeated full-amplitude translocations, whereas higher frequency pulses gave reduced translocation, indicating a failure to reset. Deterministic and stochastic mathematical models predicted how negative feedback loops regulate both the resetting of the system and cellular heterogeneity. Altering the stimulation intervals gave different patterns of NF-kappaB-dependent gene expression, which supports the idea that oscillation frequency has a functional role.