Plasma levels of tumour necrosis factor (TNF) were significantly higher in 178 Gambian children with uncomplicated malaria due to Plasmodium falciparum than in 178 children with other illnesses. 110 children with cerebral malaria were studied shortly after admission to hospital; 28 subsequently died. Compared with the children with uncomplicated malaria, mean plasma TNF levels were twice as high in cerebral malaria survivors and ten times as high in the fatal cases. Although high TNF levels were associated with high parasitaemia and with hypoglycaemia, they predicted fatal outcome in cerebral malaria independently of parasitaemia and glucose concentrations. Concentrations of interleukin-1 alpha, but not interferon gamma, were also related to the severity of malaria. We conclude that increased TNF production is a normal host response to P falciparum infection, but that excessive levels of production may predispose to cerebral malaria and a fatal outcome.