Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) has been found to be elevated in patients during hemodialysis and is thought to mediate some of the immune and metabolic dysfunctions in these patients. It has been speculated that infusions of soluble TNF receptor (sTNF-R) may prevent some of the cytotoxic effects of TNF. However, little is still known about preexisting serum TNF-R levels in patients with chronic renal failure, with or without hemodialysis. Therefore we analyzed serum samples of sTNF-R in 26 patients with chronic renal failure (group I), 61 hemodialysis patients (group II), 9 renal transplant recipients with acute renal failure requiring posttransplant dialysis (group III), 13 renal transplant patients with rejection and moderate kidney dysfunction (group IV), and 21 renal transplant recipients with borderline kidney dysfunction and diverse infectious complications (group V). Control groups consisted of 34 blood donors and diseased controls (11 renal transplant recipients with normal kidney function without complications). All patient groups showed significantly higher sTNF-R levels compared to the control groups. In groups I, IV, and V comparable levels were observed. In group I there was a clear correlation between sTNF-R levels and serum creatinine. The highest sTNF-R serum levels were seen in groups II and III, but there was no correlation with creatinine. In the posttransplant cases (group III and diseased controls) there was a decrease in sTNF-R with improvement of kidney function. These data strongly suggest that sTNF-R serum levels are dependent on kidney function.