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Inflammation is a critical component of tumour progression. Although complement and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α potentially exert significant anti-tumour effects, both mediators may also promote tumour progression. It has been demonstrated that sublytic complement confers resistance on tumour cells not only against lytic complement, but also other danger molecules such as perforin. In low concentrations, TNF promotes survival of malignant cells rather than exerting cytotoxic activity. In this study, we tested if sublytic complement is able to interfere with TNF-mediated tumour cell killing. Our results demonstrate that either subcytotoxic concentrations of TNF or sublytic complement rescue prostate carcinoma cells (DU145) from TNF-α-mediated cell death. Upon pretreatment with low-dose TNF-α, but not upon pre-exposure to sublytic complement, TNF resistance was associated with the down-regulation of TNF receptor 1 (TNF-R1) expression. Complement-induced protection against TNF-mediated apoptosis accompanied the induction of anti-apoptotic proteins [B cell leukaemia/lymphoma (Bcl)-2 and Bcl-xL] at an early stage followed by inhibition of the TNF-induced decrease in the amount of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL. Cell protection also accompanied the inhibition of caspase-8 activation, poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP)-1 cleavage and the activation of nuclear factor (NF)-κB. Our data extend our current view on the induction of tumour cell resistance against cytotoxic mediators supporting the role of the tumour microenvironment in mediating protection against the anti-cancer immune response.