The effect of amikacin and two new macrolides (roxithromycin and azithromycin) used either alone or in combination with recombinant tumor necrosis factor (TNF) to inhibit or kill Mycobacterium avium complex in human macrophages was examined in vitro. Macrophage monolayers infected with M. avium complex (strain 101, serotype 1) were treated with antibiotics or TNF by using three different protocols: (i) antibiotics or TNF was added to the monolayers immediately after infection and washed out after 24 h, (ii) antibiotics or TNF was replenished daily for 4 dys, or (iii) infected macrophage monolayers were treated with antibiotics plus TNF for 4 consecutive days. The number of viable intracellular bacteria was determined after 2 and 4 days of treatment by lysing cultured macrophages. Treatment for 24 h resulted in an inhibition of growth, as determined by macrophage lysis at day 4, for all three antimicrobial drugs and killing of 22% of intracellular bacteria after treatment with TNF. After treating the monolayers with amikacin, roxithromycin, or azithromycin for 4 consecutive days and replenishing the drug concentration daily, we observed 18 +/- 6, 20 +/- 4, and 22 +/- 1% killing, respectively. TNF (100 U/ml) was added daily to the monolayers, which resulted in 54 +/- 5% killing after 4 days. Combinations of antibiotics with TNF were associated with 62 +/- 3% killing with TNF-azithromycin, 73 +/- 6% killing with TNF-roxithromycin, and 56 +/- 4% killing of intracellular M. avium complex with TNF-amikacin after 4 days. The mycobactericidal effect was enhanced (91 +/- 4% killing by roxithromycinamikacin). Combinations of antimicrobial agents with immunomodulators like TNF may be useful for treatment of M. avium complex infection.