Epidemiological reports have suggested that the consumption of foods rich in flavonoids is associated with a lower incidence of certain degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Flavanols and their related oligomers, the procyanidins CFP, isolated from cocoa can modulate the production and level of several signaling molecules associated with immune function and inflammation in vitro, including several cytokines and eicosanoids. To further elucidate the potential immuno-modulatory functions of flavanol-rich cocoa, the present investigation examined whether isolated CFP fractions (monomers through decamers) influence the secretion of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) from resting and phytohemagluttinin (PHA)-stimulated human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). We used an in vitro culture system where PBMC from 14 healthy subjects were introduced to individual CFP fractions for 72 h prior to measuring the levels of TNF-alpha released. The intermediate-sized CFP fractions (tetramers through octamers) were the most active on resting cells, causing a 3-4 fold increase in TNF-alpha relative to media baseline. The monomers and dimers were the least stimulatory of the fractions tested, displaying a 42 and 31% increase, respectively, over media control, whereas the trimers, nonamers and decamers showed an intermediate stimulation of this cytokine. In the presence of PHA, the intermediate-sized CFP fractions again were the most active, enhancing TNF-alpha secretion in the range of 48-128% relative to the PHA control. The monomers and dimers were slightly inhibitory (-1.5 and -15%, respectively), while trimers, nonamers and decamers stimulated moderate increases in TNF-alpha levels (13, 19 and 15%, respectively). The above results lend support to the concept that CFP can be immunomodulatory. The stimulation of TNF-alpha secretion may contribute to the putative beneficial effects of dietary flavanoids against microbial infection and tumorigenesis.