Translocation of enteric bacteria or their components (or both) has been postulated to play a role in precipitating sepsis or the systemic inflammatory response syndrome. To simulate the effects of translocation on pulmonary host defenses, lipopolysaccharide was injected into the portal vein of normal rats that were subsequently challenged by aerosol inoculation with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Injection of LPS into the portal vein resulted in increased serum tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha levels and reduction in lung clearance of P. aeruginosa after aerosol challenge. There were corresponding reductions in alveolar neutrophil recruitment, diminished alveolar macrophage phagocytosis and superoxide anion (O2-) production, and diminished lung TNF recovered by bronchoalveolar lavage. Furthermore, prior intravenous injection of recombinant TNF-alpha reproduced the defective bacterial clearance, the altered recruitment of airspace neutrophils, and the defective alveolar macrophage phagocytosis. Thus, systemic TNF-alpha is important in altering pulmonary defenses, and this work supports the concept that bacterial translocation may adversely affect host defenses in distant organs.