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This study determined the location and tissue density of cells immunoreactive for tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) in intestinal specimens from 24 patients with chronic inflammatory bowel disease (15 with Crohn's disease, nine with ulcerative colitis) and 11 controls. There was significantly increased density of TNF alpha immunoreactive cells in the lamina propria of both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease specimens, although the distribution of these cells differed in the two conditions. In ulcerative colitis most of the TNF alpha immunoreactivity was seen in the subepithelial macrophages, with comparatively less in the deep lamina propria, while in Crohn's disease immunoreactive cells were distributed evenly throughout the lamina propria. Increased submucosal immunoreactivity was found only in Crohn's disease, in which TNF alpha positive macrophages tended to cluster around arterioles and venules, often infiltrating and disrupting vascular endothelium. It is suggested that this degree of TNF alpha production probably contributes significantly to the pathogenesis of both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, by impairing the integrity of epithelial and endothelial membranes, increasing inflammatory cell recruitment, and by prothrombotic effects on the vascular endothelium.