Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) is a pleiotropic mediator of inflammation that has been implicated in the pathogenesis of devastating clinical syndromes including septic shock. We have investigated the role of a TNF-responsive phosphatidylcholine-specific phospholipase C (PC-PLC) for the cytotoxic and proinflammatory activity of TNF. We show here that the cytotoxicity signaled for by the so-called "death domain" of the p55 TNF receptor is associated with the activation of PC-PLC. The xanthogenate tricyclodecan-9-yl (D609), a specific and selective inhibitor of PC-PLC, blocked the cytotoxic action of TNF on L929 and Wehi164 cells. In vivo, D609 prevented both adhesion molecule expression in the pulmonary vasculature and the accompanying leukocyte infiltration in TNF-treated mice. More strikingly, D609 protects BALB/c mice from lethal shock induced either by TNF, lipopolysaccharide, or staphylococcal enterotoxin B. Together these findings imply PC-PLC as an important mediator of the pathogenic action of TNF, suggesting that PC-PLC may serve as a novel target for anti-inflammatory TNF antagonists.