A semi-quantitative immunoblotting method was developed to screen for serum auto-antibodies against tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha). Forty nitrocellulose strips containing identical amounts of human recombinant TNF alpha (rTNF alpha) were prepared for each set-up, and the anti-TNF alpha antibody immunoreactivities were scored according to the density of the resulting colour reaction. A significant number of sera from apparently healthy donors contained detectable auto-antibodies to TNF alpha (40%), while the strongest reaction was observed in 8%. A higher prevalence of anti-TNF alpha antibodies was found in sera from patients with Gram-negative bacterial septicaemia (66%), cystic fibrosis with chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa lung infection (72%), and various rheumatic diseases (61%). The antibodies in sera from these patients belonged primarily to the IgG and IgM classes, the latter exhibiting the strongest response. Longitudinally collected serum samples from patients in septic endotoxin shock revealed that the anti-TNF alpha antibodies were induced initially during septicaemia, reaching maximum reactivities within the first week and returning to low or undetectable levels on days 9-20.