TNF signals through two distinct receptors, designated TNFR1 and TNFR2, which initiate diverse cellular effects that include cell survival, activation, differentiation, and proliferation and cell death. These cellular responses can promote immunological and inflammatory responses that eradicate infectious agents, but can also lead to local tissue injury at sites of infection and harmful systemic effects. Defining the molecular mechanisms involved in TNF responses, the effects of natural and experimental genetic diversity in TNF signalling and the effects of therapeutic blockade of TNF has increased our understanding of the key role that TNF plays in infectious disease. Copyright © 2013 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.