Cachectin/tumor necrosis factor (cachectin/TNF) and interleukin-1 (IL-1) share many effects in various tissues and cells, including suppression of lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity and enhancement of intracellular lipolysis. A possible interaction between cachectin/TNF and IL-1 in these lipase systems was studied in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. The two cytokines showed marked synergy in their suppression of LPL activity in these adipocytes. The least effective dose of cachectin/TNF or IL-1 was at around 5 x 10(-11) or 2.5 x 10(-12) M, respectively. However, when present in combination in amounts as small as 1/20 or 1/100 of the minimum effective dose for either cytokine alone (2.5 x 10(-12) M cachectin/TNF and 2.5 x 10(-14) M IL-1), the cytokines showed marked suppression of LPL activity. In marked contrast, such synergism was not seen for enhancement of intracellular lipolysis. This discrepancy in the combined effects of the two monokines on the two different enzyme systems in the same cells suggests that synergism between cachectin/TNF and IL-1 is unlikely at the level of their receptors on the surface of 3T3-L1 cells. Because the two monokines are considered to be secreted from macrophages under similar conditions, their effect on LPL suppression in many pathophysiological situations would be much greater than that of either monokine alone.