Macrophages are prominent participants in crescentic glomerulonephritis (GN) and have been suggested to be the major source of TNF in this cell-mediated form of glomerular inflammation. Intrinsic renal cells also have the capacity to produce TNF. For dissecting the contribution of local versus bone marrow (BM)-derived TNF in inflammatory renal injury, TNF chimeric mice were created by transplanting normal wild-type (WT) BM into irradiated TNF-deficient recipients (WT-->TNF-/- chimeras) and vice versa (TNF-/- -->WT chimeras). A model of crescentic GN induced by an intravenous injection of sheep anti-murine glomerular basement membrane antibody was studied in WT mice, mice with complete TNF deficiency (TNF-/-), and chimeric mice. Crescentic GN was attenuated in TNF-/- mice with fewer crescents (crescents, 13.7 +/- 1.7% of glomeruli) and reduced functional indices of renal injury (serum creatinine, 15.2 +/- 0.8 micromol/L). Similar protection (crescents, 14.3 +/- 1.9% of glomeruli; serum creatinine, 18.9 +/- 1.1 micromol/L) was observed in chimeric mice with intact BM but absent renal-derived TNF (WT-->TNF-/- chimeras), suggesting a minor contribution of infiltrating leukocytes to TNF-mediated renal injury. Chimeric mice with TNF-deficient leukocytes but intact intrinsic renal cell-derived TNF (crescents, 20.5 +/- 2.0% of glomeruli; serum creatinine, 21.6 +/- 1.4 micromol/L) developed similar crescentic GN to WT mice (crescents, 22.3 +/- 1.4% of glomeruli; serum creatinine, 24.8 +/- 1.9 micromol/L). Cutaneous delayed-type hypersensitivity after subdermal challenge with the nephritogenic antigen was attenuated in the absence of BM cell-derived TNF but unaffected in WT-->TNF-/- chimeric mice. These studies suggest that intrinsic renal cells are the major cellular source of TNF contributing to inflammatory injury in crescentic GN.