Several investigators have reported that tumor necrosis factor (TNF) can alter the production of plasminogen activator type-1 (PAI-1) and plasminogen activators (PAs) by endothelial cells in vitro. We have examined the in vivo effects of recombinant human TNF administration on fibrinolysis as assessed by parameters in plasma during a 24-hour period of continuous TNF infusion to 17 cancer patients with active disease. The plasma levels of PAI activity increased sevenfold after 3 and 24 hours of TNF infusion. This was the result of an increase of PAI- 1 antigen; PAI-2 antigen was not detectable. Plasma concentrations of tissue-type PA (t-PA) antigen increased twofold to fivefold after 3 and 24 hours of TNF infusion, whereas urokinase-type PA antigen levels in plasma remained unaltered. After 3 hours of TNF infusion the plasma levels of alpha 2-antiplasmin were slightly decreased, 5% on average, suggesting that fibrinolysis continued. After 24 hours of TNF infusion a highly significant increase in fibrin- plus fibrinogen-degradation products, and separately of fibrin degradation products and fibrinogen degradation products, was found. This indicates that fibrinolysis persisted, at least partly, in the presence of high levels of PAI activity. Whereas PAI-1 production increased, t-PA production by human endothelial cells in vitro remains unaltered or even decreases on TNF addition. It has been shown previously that TNF infusion in our patients results in thrombin and fibrin generation. Therefore, it is possible that thrombin, not TNF, is the actual stimulus for t-PA production in our patients. We speculate that fibrin is formed during TNF infusions and that plasmin is generated by t-PA action immediately on the initial formation of (soluble) fibrin molecules. Such a process may explain the generation of degradation products of both fibrin and fibrinogen during infusion of TNF in patients.