Adipogenesis is tightly regulated by altering gene expression, and TNF-α is a multifunctional cytokine that plays an important role in regulating lipogenesis. MicroRNAs are strong post-transcriptional regulators of cell differentiation. In our previous work, we found high expression of miR-181a in a fat-rich pig breed. Using bioinformatic analysis, miR-181a was identified as a potential regulator of TNF-α. Here, we validated TNF-α as the target of miR-181a by a dual luciferase assay. In response to adipogenesis, a mimic or inhibitor was used to overexpress or reduce miR-181a expression in porcine pre-adipocytes, which were then induced into mature adipocytes. Overexpression of miR-181a accelerated accumulation of lipid droplets, increased the amount of triglycerides, and repressed TNF-α protein expression, while the inhibitor had the opposite effect. At the same time, TNF-alpha rescued the increased lipogenesis by miR181a mimics. Additionally, miR-181a suppression decreased the expression of fatty synthesis associated genes PDE3B (phosphodiesterase 3B), LPL (lipoprotein lipase), PPARγ (proliferator-activated receptor-γ), GLUT1 (glucose transporter), GLUT4, adiponectin and FASN (fatty acid synthase), as well as key lipolytic genes HSL (hormone-sensitive lipase) and ATGL (adipose triglyceride lipase) as revealed by quantitative real-time PCR. Our study provides the first evidence of the role of miR-181a in adipocyte differentiation by regulation of TNF-α, which may became a new therapeutic target for anti-obesity drugs.