Studies on mice deficient in nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappaB) subunits have shown that this transcription factor is important for lymphocyte responses to antigens and cytokine-inducible gene expression. In particular, the RelA (p65) subunit is required for induction of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)-dependent genes. Treatment of RelA-deficient (RelA-/-) mouse fibroblasts and macrophages with TNF-alpha resulted in a significant reduction in viability, whereas RelA+/+ cells were unaffected. Cytotoxicity to both cell types was mediated by TNF receptor 1. Reintroduction of RelA into RelA-/- fibroblasts resulted in enhanced survival, demonstrating that the presence of RelA is required for protection from TNF-alpha. These results have implications for the treatment of inflammatory and proliferative diseases.