Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) is recognized as a central mediator of sepsis, septic shock, and multiple organ failure. These host reactions are associated with increased TNF levels in circulation, presumably due to increased TNF production. A previously described nucleotide variation at position -308 in the promoter region of the human TNF gene was shown to be associated with the clinical outcome of malaria. In this study we addressed the relevance of the -308 polymorphism for expression of the human TNF gene in response to bacterial endo- toxin in vivo and in vitro. First, we typed 80 patients suffering from severe sepsis and 153 healthy individuals and found no association of the -308 variation with incidence of the disease. In contrast, the NcoI marker in the closely linked lymphotoxin-alpha (LT-alpha) gene showed association with survivaL This discrepancy can be explained by the linkage of the TNFB2(NcoI) allele to the common TNF1 (-308) allele. Second, we generated reporter gene constructs with the promoter deletions and with both -308 variation in the context of the extended human TNF promoter region. Although such constructs were highly inducible by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in transient transfections into a macrophage cell line, the -308 variation had no significant effect on transcription, consistent with the promoter deletion study. We conclude that the functional consequence of the -308 polymorphism may be unrelated to transcriptional response of the TNF gene to bacterial endotoxin.