The two most common forms of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), the childhood cerebral form (CCER) and the adult form, adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN), arise from the same mutations in the X-ALD gene at Xq28. These two forms are distinguished by the degree of cerebral inflammation. Segregation analysis suggests that an autosomal modifying gene may be a major determinant of phenotype in X-ALD. Thus, a modifying gene could be involved in initiating or promoting the inflammatory response. In this study we detected a difference in tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) bioactivity, but not TNF-alpha protein levels, in serum from some advanced CCER patients. Early-stage CCER patients and AMN patients were in the normal range. Allelic differences in TNF-alpha or levels of soluble TNF receptor did not account for bioactivity differences or phenotypic heterogeneity in X-ALD.