The mediators involved in leucocyte recruitment to joints during arthritis are not fully defined, but two important proinflammatory cytokines, IL-1 and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), are produced in joints in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We investigated in the rat adjuvant arthritis model whether endogenous IL-1 and TNF-alpha contribute to joint inflammation and polymorphonuclear leucocyte (PMNL) and T lymphocyte infiltration. The migration of 51Cr-labelled rat blood PMNL and 111In-labelled T lymphocytes to the joints of rats with adjuvant arthritis was measured along with plasma protein extravasation, which was quantified using 125I-labelled human albumin. Rats with active arthritis of 5 days' duration received i.p. non-immune serum, polyclonal neutralizing anti-serum to rat TNF-alpha, antiserum to IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta, or both anti-TNF plus anti-IL-1 for 5 days. Treatment with anti-IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta did not affect plasma protein extravasation, or PMNL or T lymphocyte accumulation in the joints (i.e. talar joint, hind paws, and tail) despite the fact that this treatment inhibited 80-90% of the PMNL migration into dermal sites injected with IL-1 alpha or IL-1 beta. In contrast, anti-TNF-alpha treatment significantly improved clinical scores, decreased plasma protein extravasation by 60-80%, inhibited PMNL accumulation by 40-50% and decreased T lymphocyte accumulation by 30-50%. Treatment with anti-IL-1, together with anti-TNF-alpha, significantly potentiated the inhibition of T lymphocyte accumulation observed with anti-TNF-alpha alone. These results indicate that endogenous TNF-alpha production may play an important role in the inflammatory changes and leucocyte recruitment in this experimental model of human arthritis, while IL-1 may have a less important role in leucocyte recruitment to these joints.