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May 2016

Tumor Necrosis Factor and the Tenacious α

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, University Hospital in North Norway, Tromsø, Norway
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(5):557. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.4322

Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) is a central cytokine in inflammation and an important therapeutic target in dermatology. For reasons unknown, TNF is still referred to as TNF-α in numerous newly published scientific papers, almost 2 decades after the cytokine was renamed. Of notice, this transgression is common in biomedical science, not limited to dermatology.

In 1975, Carswell and colleagues1 identified TNF from human serum as responsible for necrosis in different tumors in mice. Demonstration of functional and sequential homology of TNF and the previously discovered cytotoxic factor lymphotoxin in 1985 resulted in renaming of TNF as TNF-α and lymphotoxin as TNF-β.2 These 2 cytokines laid the foundation for the isolation and identification of the larger family of cytokines, now known as the TNF superfamily. In 1993, a close homologue of lymphotoxin, the lymphotoxin-β, was discovered.3 Subsequently, at the Seventh International TNF Congress (May 17-21, 1998; Hyannis, Massachusetts), the name “TNF-β” was changed to “lymphotoxin-α.” Concurrently, “TNF-α” became an orphan term with no meaning different from the original term, “TNF,” which was reinstated as official name of the cytokine.