Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) is a highly pleiotropic cytokine produced mainly by activated macrophages. This cytokine has been found to mediate the growth of certain tumors, the replication of HIV-1, septic shock, cachexia, graft-versus-host disease, and autoimmune diseases. The binding of TNF-alpha to the p55 tumor necrosis factor receptor type I (TNFRI) is considered one of the initial steps responsible for the multiple physiologic effects mediated by TNF-alpha. The role of TNF-alpha as an inflammatory mediator through TNFRI makes both of these genes attractive targets for intervention in both acute and chronic inflammatory diseases. We have designed antisense oligodeoxynucleotides (ODNs) containing chemically modified purine and pyrimidine bases that specifically inhibit TNFRI expression and functions. These ODNs were designed to hybridize to the 3'-polyadenylation signal region of the TNFRI gene. In cell-based assays, gene-specific antisense inhibition occurred in a dose-dependent fashion at submicromolar concentrations in the presence of cellular uptake enhancing agents. Within ODN sets with a common pattern of stabilizing backbone substitution, the inhibition of the gene expression is found to be correlated with the affinity of the ODNs for their cognate mRNA target sites, providing direct evidence for an antisense mechanism of action. In addition, events triggered by the binding of TNF-alpha to TNFRI, such as the production of IL-6 and IL-8, were significantly reduced by treatment of cells with the anti-TNFRI ODN. Therefore, antisense ODNs can be used to control biologic processes mediated by TNF-alpha and may be useful as therapeutic agents to treat conditions resulting from overproduction of TNF-alpha.