To compare the function of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and lymphotoxin (LT)alpha/beta systems in the mature immune system, these two pathways were blocked with soluble receptor-immunoglobulin (R-Ig) fusion proteins in normal adult mice. Inhibition of LT alpha/beta signaling using LT betaR-Ig or a blocking monoclonal antibody against murine LT beta had profound effects. The spleen lacked discrete B cell follicles and the marginal zone was altered. Less marked changes were detected in lymph nodes. LT alpha/beta inhibition also prevented germinal center formation in the spleen and impaired Ig production in response to sheep red blood cells (SRBC) immunization. These results show that the LT alpha/beta system is required for the maintenance of splenic architecture and normal immune responses, and not simply for the development of peripheral immune organs during ontogeny. In contrast, inhibition of the TNF/LT alpha pathway with TNF-R55-Ig did not affect the splenic architecture or the anti-SRBC response. Splenic defects and impaired antibody responses are seen in TNF-deficient mice, suggesting that TNF is important during development. Therefore relative to TNF, the LT system has the dominant influence on splenic organization and anti-SRBC Ig formation in the adult mouse.