Several recently identified intracellular proteins associate with the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor and activate nuclear transcription factor (NF)-kappaB, c-Jun kinase, and apoptosis. However, the mechanism is not understood. In the present report, we investigated the role of reactive oxygen intermediates in TNF-induced signaling. Overexpression of manganese superoxide dismutase (Mn-SOD) in human breast cancer MCF-7 cells completely abolished TNF-mediated NF-kappaB activation, IkappaB alpha degradation, p65 nuclear translocation, and NF-kappaB-dependent reporter gene expression. Besides TNF, phorbol ester-, okadaic acid-, ceramide-, and lipopolysaccharide-induced activation of NF-kappaB was blocked by Mn-SOD, indicating a common pathway of activation. H2O2-induced NF-kappaB activation, however, was potentiated. In addition, Mn-SOD blocked the TNF-mediated activation of activated protein-1, stress-activated c-Jun protein kinase, and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase. TNF-induced antiproliferative effects and caspase-3 activation, indicators of apoptosis, were also completely suppressed by transfection of cells with Mn-SOD. Suppression of apoptosis induced by okadaic acid, H2O2, and taxol was also inhibited by Mn-SOD but not that induced by vincristine, vinblastine, or daunomycin. Overall, these results demonstrate that, in addition to several recently identified signaling molecules, reactive oxygen intermediates play a critical role in activation of NF-kappaB, activated protein-1, c-Jun kinase, and apoptosis induced by TNF and other agents.