Identification of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) as the key agent in inflammatory disorders led to new therapies specifically targeting TNF alpha and avoiding many side effects of earlier anti-inflammatory drugs. However, because of the wide spectrum of systems affected by TNF alpha, drugs targeting TNF alpha have a potential risk of delaying wound healing, secondary infections, and cancer. Indeed, increased risks of tuberculosis and carcinogenesis have been reported as side effects after anti-TNF alpha therapy. TNF alpha regulates many processes (e.g. immune response, cell cycle, and apoptosis) through several signal transduction pathways that convey the TNF alpha signals to the nucleus. Hypothesizing that specific TNF alpha-dependent pathways control specific processes and that inhibition of a specific pathway may yield even more precisely targeted therapies, we used oligonucleotide microarrays and parthenolide, an NF-kappa B-specific inhibitor, to identify the NF-kappa B-dependent set of the TNF alpha-regulated genes in human epidermal keratinocytes. Expression of approximately 40% of all TNF alpha-regulated genes depends on NF-kappa B; 17% are regulated early (1-4 h post-treatment), and 23% are regulated late (24-48 h). Cytokines and apoptosis-related and cornification proteins belong to the "early" NF-kappa B-dependent group, and antigen presentation proteins belong to the "late" group, whereas most cell cycle, RNA-processing, and metabolic enzymes are not NF-kappa B-dependent. Therefore, inflammation, immunomodulation, apoptosis, and differentiation are on the NF-kappa B pathway, and cell cycle, metabolism, and RNA processing are not. Most early genes contain consensus NF-kappaB binding sites in their promoter DNA and are, presumably, directly regulated by NF-kappa B, except, curiously, the cornification markers. Using siRNA silencing, we identified cFLIP/CFLAR as an essential NF-kappa B-dependent antiapoptotic gene. The results confirm our hypothesis, suggesting that inhibiting a specific TNF alpha-dependent signaling pathway may inhibit a specific TNF alpha-regulated process, leaving others unaffected. This could lead to more specific anti-inflammatory agents that are both more effective and safer.