Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) plays a critical role in the control of endothelial cell function and hence in regulating traffic of circulating cells into tissues in vivo. Stimulation of endothelial cells in vitro by TNF-alpha increases the surface expression of leukocyte adhesion molecules, enhances cytokine production, and induces tissue factor procoagulant activity. In the present study, we have examined the relative roles of the two cell surface receptors for TNF- alpha (p55 and p75) on endothelial cells, using antibodies with both agonistic and antagonistic activities. We report that anti-p55 receptor agonistic antibody Htr-9 induces the expression of tissue factor antigen and the release of interleukin-8 (IL-8) and granulocyte- macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). In contrast, there is very little or no activation of endothelial cell responses by an anti- p75 agonist. TNF-alpha-induced expression of tissue factor and adhesion molecules, and release of IL-8 and GM-CSF, are decreased by antibodies with antagonistic activities for either receptor, although the effect of anti-p55 antibodies is markedly greater than that of anti-p75 antibodies. The responses of endothelial cells to lymphotoxin/TNF-beta are significantly decreased by anti-p55 antagonists alone. Our data suggest that endothelial cell responses to TNF-alpha, such as expression of tissue factor and adhesion molecules for mononuclear cells, which may be important in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis, are mediated predominantly, but not exclusively, by the p55 TNF receptor.