Human recombinant tumor necrosis factor (rTNF) bound to ML-1 and HL-60 human myeloid leukemia cells in a bimodal manner. Saturable high- affinity binding was maximal at approximately 3 nmol/L rTNF, whereas saturable low-affinity binding reached its maximum at approximately 30 nmol/L. As analyzed by computer program, the observed data fit a two- receptor site model, with p less than .05. High-affinity binding concentrations of rTNF caused the differentiation of both cell lines, whereas low-affinity binding concentrations abolished this effect in a concentration-dependent manner. Thus, the type of biologic response elicited with rTNF in these cells is a function of the concentration at which the factor is applied. If generally applicable, this bimodal effect may require consideration when rTNF is to be used therapeutically.