Eosinophils (EOs) participate in a variety of inflammatory states characterized by endothelial cell damage, such as vasculitis, pneumonitis, and endocarditis. We find that 100 U/ml TNF-alpha/cachectin (TNF), a concentration attainable in the blood of humans with parasitic infestations, stimulates highly purified populations of EOs to damage human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC), a model of human endothelium. This TNF-dependent EO cytotoxicity is strongly inhibited by heparin and methyprednisolone but unaffected by the platelet-activating factor antagonist BN52012 or scavengers of superoxide anion and H2O2, superoxide dismutase and catalase. However, addition of a physiologically relevant concentration of Br- (100 microM) enhances EO/TNF damage to HUVEC, implicating the possible participation of EO peroxidase (EPO) in the killing mechanism. EOs adherent to FCS-coated plastic wells more than double their production of superoxide anion and the cytotoxic EPO-derived oxidant HOBr when exposed to TNF, showing that TNF activates the respiratory burst of EOs attached to a "physiologic" surface. Unlike PMNs, EOs were not irreversibly activated to kill unopsonized endothelium by previous exposure to TNF, and did not degranulate or upregulate CR3 expression as detected by Mo1 in the presence of 100 U/ml TNF. HUVEC exposed 18 h to TNF were considerably more susceptible to lysis by PMA-activated EOs and reagent H2O2, demonstrating a direct effect of TNF upon endothelium, perhaps through inhibition of antioxidant defenses. These findings suggest that abnormally elevated serum levels of TNF may provoke EOs to damage endothelial cells and thereby play a role in the pathogenesis of tissue damage in hypereosinophilic states.