Members of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor (TNFR) superfamily are potent regulators of apoptosis, a process that is important for the maintenance of immune homeostasis. Recent evidence suggests that TNFR-1 and Fas and TRAIL receptors can also trigger an alternative form of cell death that is morphologically distinct from apoptosis. Because distinct molecular components including the serine/threonine protein kinase receptor-interacting protein (RIP) are required, we have referred to this alternative form of cell death as "programmed necrosis." We show that TNFR-2 signaling can potentiate programmed necrosis via TNFR-1. When cells were pre-stimulated through TNFR-2 prior to subsequent activation of TNFR-1, enhanced cell death and recruitment of RIP to the TNFR-1 complex were observed. However, TNF-induced programmed necrosis was normally inhibited by caspase-8 cleavage of RIP. To ascertain the physiological significance of RIP and programmed necrosis, we infected Jurkat cells with vaccinia virus (VV) and found that VV-infected cells underwent programmed necrosis in response to TNF, but deficiency of RIP rescued the infected cells from TNF-induced cytotoxicity. Moreover, TNFR-2 -/-mice exhibited reduced inflammation in the liver and defective viral clearance during VV infection. Interestingly, death effector domain-containing proteins such as MC159, E8, K13, and cellular FLIP, but not the apoptosis inhibitors Bcl-XL, p35, and XIAP, potently suppressed programmed necrosis. Thus, TNF-induced programmed necrosis is facilitated by TNFR-2 signaling and caspase inhibition and may play a role in controlling viral infection.