Recombinant human tumor necrosis factor (rH-TNF) is a cytokine with direct antitumor properties. In a phase I trial we continuously infused rH-TNF for 24 hours. We gave a total of 115 courses of therapy to 50 patients. Doses ranged from 4.5 to 645 micrograms of rH-TNF/m2. Systemic toxicity, including fever, chills, fatigue, and hypotension, increased with the dose of rH-TNF administered. Doses greater than 454 micrograms/m2 frequently caused severe lethargy and fatigue, which precluded hospital discharge of the patient at the completion of therapy. The dose-limiting toxicity was hypotension, and five patients treated at the two highest dose levels required dopamine treatment. Other organ-specific toxicity was modest and spontaneously resolved after 48 hours. The 24-hour infusions of rH-TNF were associated with significant decreases in serum cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein levels. Pharmacokinetic studies using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay demonstrated peak plasma rH-TNF levels of 90-900 pg/mL. Despite continuous infusion of rH-TNF, no steady-state level was achieved. The recommended phase II dose for rH-TNF as a 24-hour continuous infusion is 545 micrograms/m2.