Treatment of the human myelomonocytic U937 and THP1 cell lines for 24 h with 180 mM of the differentiation inducer DMSO, resulted in priming these cells to subsequent LPS-induced cytolysis. The observed cytotoxicity was LPS dose-dependent and characterized by a prolonged lag phase with detectable effects only appearing after 8 h. LPS-induced apoptotic cell death in DMSO-pretreated U937 cells as indicated by the appearance of 200 basepair DNA fragments upon agarose gel electrophoresis of total cellular DNA. Furthermore, DMSO pretreatment potentiated the cells' capacity to produce cytokines, especially TNF, upon LPS stimulation. This endogenously present TNF was metabolized by the cells. These observations suggested that the LPS-induced cytostasis/cytotoxicity was mediated through TNF. Indeed, medium conditioned by LPS-stimulated U937-DMSO cells was found to exert a cytotoxic effect on U937-DMSO cells that was completely neutralized by anti-human TNF antiserum. Such TNF-like activities were not only present in the supernatant but also at the level of the cell membrane of LPS-stimulated U937-DMSO cells. Apart from TNF, other exogenously applied recombinant cytokines (IL1, IL6, IFN gamma, GM-CSF) were not cytotoxic to U937-DMSO cells. Thus, DMSO-pretreated myelomonocytic cells become sensitive to LPS-induced cytotoxicity, which is, at least in part, mediated through endogenous TNF.