The liver contains the largest pool of cytokine-producing macrophages in the body and may therefore play an important role in the development and outcome of systemic inflammatory response syndromes. Therefore, we investigated the tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) releasing capacity of the in situ perfused mouse liver and its modulation by methylxanthines, i.e., by a class of well-established inflammatory cytokine-suppressing drugs. We have shown that pretreatment of mice with either lipopolysaccharide or TNF elicited a dose-dependent TNF release into the perfusate which was inhibited by in vivo pretreatment of mice with pentoxifylline or A-802715 [1-(5-hydroxy-5-methyl)hexyl-3-methyl-7-propylxanthin]. Infusion of these methylxanthines into livers from mice pretreated with lipopolysaccharide or TNF also inhibited TNF release in an immediate and reversible way even after TNF production had been initiated. The inhibitory effect of methylxanthines was prevented by pretreatment of mice with the adenylate cyclase inhibitor dideoxyadenosine, suggesting upregulation of the cyclic adenosine monophosphate system as a possible mechanism of action of these drugs. Our findings demonstrate that the liver is a potent cytokine producer and identify it as one of the target organs of methylxanthines or other phosphodiesterase inhibitors in murine models of shock and inflammatory liver failure.