To design hybrid tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) applicable to systemic anti-tumour therapeutic use, we assessed the relationships among the molecular size of hybrid TNF-alpha, in vitro bioactivity and in vivo anti-tumour potency. Natural human TNF-alpha was covalently modified with polyethylene glycol (PEG) of various number-average molecular weights (Mn = 2000, 5000, 12,000). The in vitro bioactivity of PEG-modified TNF-alpha s decreased with an increase in the degree of PEG modification, irrespective of the molecular weight of PEG. This decrease in the specific bioactivity markedly increased with an increase in the molecular weight of the attached PEG. The in vivo anti-tumour effects of the hybrid TNF-alpha s with a molecular size from 100 to 110 kDa, which had more than 50% of specific bioactivity of native TNF-alpha, were significantly superior to other PEG-TNF-alpha s. These hybrid TNF-alpha s showed over ten times greater anti-tumour effects than native TNF-alpha. Thus, the molecular size, which was determined by the degree of PEG modification and PEG molecular weight, influences the specific activity and anti-tumour effects of hybrid TNF-alpha.