We have examined the expression of the inflammatory cytokine, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) in the mouse brain. Using immunohistochemical methods developed, we found anti-TNFα immunoreactivity localized in the basal ganglia and other discrete brain structures. Constitutive immunoreactivity, present in normal, unstimulated brain, was observed in glial and microglial-like cells, but it was predominant in neuronal-like cells. Intravenous administration of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) increased TNFα transcript levels detected by RT-PCR in specific brain subregions in which contaminating blood cells were removed. The maximal increase occurred within 2 h of LPS injection; transcripts diminished to near control levels in the next 4 h. Immunocytochemical analysis and single-cell RT-PCR analysis of primary cultures of cortical neuronal cells confirmed expression of TNFα in cells that also express neuronal-specific enolase RNA. Addition of LPS or recombinant TNFα protein to neuronal cultures enhanced expression of TNFα transcripts. Our results indicate that in addition to glial and microglial cells, a well-defined subset of neuronal cells also express TNFα constitutively; this expression can be altered by both extrinsic (LPS) and intrinsic (TNFα itself) factors.