The effects of adrenaline and isoproterenol, a specific beta-adrenergic agonist, on TNF production were investigated. Both agents inhibited the production of TNF by human blood and THP-1 cells stimulated by LPS. The effect of adrenaline was prevented by a beta-receptor antagonist, but not by an alpha-receptor antagonist. Levels of TNF mRNA were not reduced by adrenaline. Inhibition of TNF production was observed only if cells were first exposed to adrenaline or isoproterenol at about the same time as to LPS; incubation of THP-1 cells with isoproterenol for 24 h before LPS stimulation dramatically increased response, and prevented suppression of TNF production by a second dose of isoproterenol. Intracellular cAMP levels were increased by adrenaline and isoproterenol, at concentrations that inhibited TNF production. However, prolonged incubation of THP-1 cells with isoproterenol resulted in depression of cAMP concentrations to below basal levels. These data suggest that TNF production can be regulated by beta-receptor stimulation, that such regulation is mediated by changes in intracellular cAMP concentrations and is exerted at a posttranscriptional level. Adrenaline may be an important endogenous regulator of TNF production in sepsis.