Tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) inhibits osteoblast function in vitro by inhibiting collagen deposition. Studies generally support that TNF-α does not inhibit collagen biosynthesis by osteoblasts but that collagen deposition is in some way diminished. The study investigated TNF-α regulation of biosynthetic enzymes and proteins crucial for posttranslational extracellular collagen maturation in osteoblasts including procollagen C-proteinases, procollagen C-proteinase enhancer, and lysyl oxidase. The working hypothesis is that such regulation could inhibit collagen deposition by osteoblasts. We report that in phenotypically normal MC3T3-E1 osteoblasts, TNF-α decreases collagen deposition without decreasing collagen mRNA levels or procollagen protein synthesis. Analyses of the cell layers revealed that TNF-α diminished the levels of mature collagen cross-links, pyridinoline and deoxypyridinoline. Further analyses revealed that the mRNA expression for lysyl oxidase, the determining enzyme required for collagen cross-linking, is down-regulated by TNF-α in a concentration- and time-dependent manner by up to 50%. The decrease was accompanied by a significant reduction of lysyl oxidase protein levels and enzyme activity. By contrast, Northern and Western blotting studies revealed that procollagen C-proteinases bone morphogenic protein-1 and mammalians Tolloid and procollagen C-proteinase enhancer were expressed in MC3T3-E1 cells and not down-regulated. The data together demonstrate that TNF-α does not inhibit collagen synthesis but does inhibit the expression and activity of lysyl oxidase in osteoblasts, thereby contributing to perturbed collagen cross-linking and accumulation. These studies identify a novel mechanism in which proinflammatory cytokine modulation of an extracellular biosynthetic enzyme plays a determining role in the control of collagen accumulation by osteoblasts.