AIMS: To determine the distribution and cellular origin of endogenous tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) in the cellular components of human gliomas. METHODS: Frozen sections of 26 gliomas (four astrocytomas (As); two oligoastrocytomas (OA); one ansplastic astrocytoma (AA); one anaplastic oligoastrocytoma (AOA); 18 glioblastomas (GB)) were examined immunohistochemically using antihuman TNF alpha and anti-Leu-M5 (CD11c) antibodies. Additional studies with double immunohistocchemical procedures were performed with anti-glial fibrillary acidic protein and anti-neurofilament antibodies. RESULTS: Eighty per cent of the AA, AOA, and GB (16 of 20) had a positive reaction for TNF alpha, but only 17% of As and OA (one of six) were positive. Positive cells were seen in both the tumour tissue and adjacent brain tissues. TNF alpha protein was detected not only in the tumour cells but also in the endothelium of tumour vessels as well as reactive astrocytes and neurons. CONCLUSIONS: Endogenous TNF alpha is present in cells of various origins in glial tumours including tumour vessels; however, the role of TNF alpha may be different in different types of cells or altered microenvironment.