Cytokines are now recognized to play important roles in the physiology of the central nervous system (CNS) during health and disease. Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of several human CNS disorders including multiple sclerosis, AIDS dementia, and cerebral malaria. We have generated transgenic mice that constitutively express a murine TNF-alpha transgene, under the control of its own promoter, specifically in their CNS and that spontaneously develop a chronic inflammatory demyelinating disease with 100% penetrance from around 3-8 weeks of age. High-level expression of the transgene was seen in neurons distributed throughout the brain. Disease is manifested by ataxia, seizures, and paresis and leads to early death. Histopathological analysis revealed infiltration of the meninges and CNS parenchyma by CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes, widespread reactive astrocytosis and microgliosis, and focal demyelination. The direct action of TNF-alpha in the pathogenesis of this disease was confirmed by peripheral administration of a neutralizing anti-murine TNF-alpha antibody. This treatment completely prevented the development of neurological symptoms, T-cell infiltration into the CNS parenchyma, astrocytosis, and demyelination, and greatly reduced the severity of reactive microgliosis. These results demonstrate that overexpression of TNF-alpha in the CNS can cause abnormalities in nervous system structure and function. The disease induced in TNF-alpha transgenic mice shows clinical and histopathological features characteristic of inflammatory demyelinating CNS disorders in humans, and these mice represent a relevant in vivo model for their further study.