Elevated plasma concentrations of the cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) have been observed in patients affected by leptospirosis. In this study we found that a preparation of peptidoglycan of Leptospira interrogans, serovar copenhageni, was able to induce the release of TNF alpha from peripheral blood mononuclear cells. TNF alpha induction occurred in a dose dependent manner and was not affected by the endotoxin inhibitor polymixin B. This is the first report on induction of TNF alpha release by a peptidoglycan of spirochetes. Our findings are consistent with existing clinical data and provide a potential mechanism for TNF alpha production.