Isolated limb perfusion (ILP) with tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and melphalan has shown impressive results in patients with irresectable soft tissue sarcomas and stage III melanoma of the extremities. The mechanisms of the reported in vivo synergistic anti-tumour effects of TNF-α and melphalan are not precisely understood. We have developed an ILP model in the rat using a non-immunogenic sarcoma in which similar in vivo synergy is observed. The aim of this present study was to analyse the morphological substrate for this synergistic response of TNF-α in combination with melphalan to shed more light on the pathomechanisms involved. Histology of the tumours from saline- (n = 14) and melphalan-treated (n = 11) rats revealed apparently vital tumour cells in over 80% of the cross-sections. Interstitial oedema and coagulation necrosis were observed in the remaining part of the tumour. Haemorrhage was virtually absent. TNF-α (n = 22) induced marked oedema, hyperaemia, vascular congestion, extravasation of erythrocytes and haemorrhagic necrosis (20-60% of the cross-sections). Oedema and haemorrhage suggested drastic alterations of permeability and integrity of the microvasculature. Using light and electron-microscopy, we observed that haemorrhage preceded generalised platelet aggregation. Therefore, we suggest that the observed platelet aggregation was the result of the microvascular damage rather than its initiator. Remarkably, these events hardly influenced tumour growth. However, perfusion with the combination of TNF-α and melphalan (n=24) showed more extensive haemorrhagic necrosis (80-90% of the cross-sections) and revealed a prolonged remission (mean 11 days) in comparison with the other groups of rats. Electron microscopical analysis revealed similar findings as described after TNF-α alone, although the effects were more prominent at all time points after perfusion. In conclusion, our findings suggest that the enhanced anti-tumour effect after the combination of TNF-α with melphalan results from potentiation of the TNF-α-induced vascular changes accompanied by increased vascular permeability and platelet aggregation. This may result in additive cytotoxicity or inhibition of growth of residual tumour cells.