Intravitreal injection of human recombinant tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) induced inflammation in the rabbit eye characterized by dilation of blood vessels in the iris, disruption of the blood-ocular barriers, infiltration of inflammatory cells into the anterior chamber, and accumulation of prostaglandin E in intraocular fluids. Inflammation first appeared on day 1, increased on day 2, and remained elevated on day 7. The inflammatory cell infiltrate in the anterior segment of the eye was largely monocytic on days 1 and 2; by day 7 large numbers of lymphocytes were also present. TNF-induced ocular inflammation therefore differed from that reported for intravitreally injected endotoxin in terms of time course and the types of inflammatory cells in the aqueous humor. In a series of experiments in which combinations of TNF and endotoxin were used, intravitreal injection of TNF, 24 h after a low dose of Escherichia coli endotoxin, produced no more inflammation than that produced by TNF following an injection of endotoxin vehicle. However, if TNF was injected 24 h before endotoxin, the resulting inflammation was greater than that observed in animals given TNF followed by endotoxin vehicle.