Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) levels were determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and by cell culture bioassay in supernatants of lipopolysaccharide-stimulated feline monocyte cultures and in cat serum samples. There was a good correlation between the results obtained by the two methods. From the fact that TNF alpha was neutralized quantitatively by antibodies to human TNF alpha in feline monocyte supernatants and in feline sera, it was concluded that feline TNF alpha immunologically cross-reacts with human TNF alpha and that the human TNF alpha ELISA can be used to quantitate feline TNF alpha. During the first 6 months after experimental feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection no differences in serum TNF alpha values were observed between infected and non-infected cats. TNF alpha levels increased significantly after primary vaccination with a feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccine in FIV infected cats over those in the non-infected controls. During secondary immune response TNF alpha levels rose transiently for a period of a few days in both the FIV positive and the FIV negative cats. After FeLV challenge, TNF alpha levels increased in all animals challenged with virulent FeLV for a period of 3 weeks. This period corresponded to the time necessary to develop persistent FeLV viremia in the control cats. It was concluded from these experiments that in the asymptomatic phase of FIV infection no increased levels of TNF alpha are present, similar to the situation in asymptomatic HIV infected humans. Activation of monocytes/macrophages in FIV infected cats by stimuli such as vaccination or FeLV challenge readily leads to increased levels of TNF alpha.