The multiple biological activities of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) are mediated by two distinct cell surface receptors of 55 kd (TNFRp55) and 75 kd (TNFRp75). Using gene targeting, we generated a TNFRp55-deficient mouse strain. Cells from TNFRp55-/-mutant mice lack expression of TNFRp55 but display normal numbers of high affinity TNFRp75 molecules. Thymocyte development and lymphocyte populations are unaltered, and clonal deletion of potentially self-reactive T cells is not impaired. However, TNF signaling is largely abolished, as judged by the failure of TNF to induce NF-kappa B in T lymphocytes from TNFRp55-deficient mice. The loss of TNFRp55 function renders mice resistant to lethal dosages of either lipopolysaccharides or S. aureus enterotoxin B. In contrast, TNFRp55-deficient mice are severely impaired to clear L. monocytogenes and readily succumb to infection. Thus, the 55 kd TNFR plays a decisive role in the host's defense against microorganisms and their pathogenic factors.