The repetitive administration of low doses of hTNF to mice induces tolerance to the lethal effects of mTNF. The underlying mechanism is unknown. In this study we have investigated whether changes in bioavailability and receptor binding could account for the observed differences. To that end we compared the pharmacokinetics of mTNF, the antibody response to TNF, the levels of soluble TNF receptors and the receptor binding of TNF in tolerant and control mice. No differences in pharmacokinetic parameters were observed. An antibody response towards hTNF occurred but the antibodies did not neutralize the mTNF used as a challenge. Furthermore, tolerance failed to protect mice against lethality induced by TNF in the presence of galactosamine, where 100- to 1000-fold lower dose of TNF is required. Also, tolerance could be induced in athymic nude mice where the antibody response is absent. These results show that the mechanism of induction of tolerance is not due to an antibody response. No differences in levels of soluble receptors or receptor binding could be observed in tolerant vs control mice. We conclude that the induction of tolerance involves mechanisms operating at the post-receptor pathways.