Recombinant human tumor necrosis factor (rH-TNF) is a cytotoxic monokine with pleiotropic effects. A phase I trial of rH-TNF was initiated using a five-day continuous intravenous (IV) infusion repeated every 28 days. Thirty-eight courses of therapy were administered to 19 patients. The starting dose was 5 X 10(4) U/m2/d, with escalations to 1.0 X 10(5), 2.0 X 10(5), 2.4 X 10(5), and 3.0 X 10(5) U/m2/d. Systemic side effects, including fever, chills, hypotension, fatigue, anorexia, and headaches, were mild and self-limiting. At the maximum tolerated dose of 3.0 X 10(5) U/m2/d, dose-limiting hematologic toxicity was manifested by transient thrombocytopenia and leukopenia. Elevated bilirubin levels were also seen at the higher dose levels. Lipoprotein analysis demonstrated that the five-day treatment with rH-TNF was associated with decreases in high-density lipoproteins, as well as increases in triglycerides and very-low-density lipoproteins. Pharmacokinetic studies using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test indicated plasma rH-TNF levels less than 0.2 U/mL. The recommended phase II dose of rH-TNF administered as a five-day continuous infusion is 2.4 X 10(5) U/m2/d.