"Because LTα is no longer referred to as TNFβ,[64] TNFα, as the previous gene symbol, is now simply called TNF, as shown in HGNC (HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee) database." says https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumor_necrosis_factor#Nomenclature.

Is this correct? What, if anything, does it say about someone if he calls it "tumor necrosing factor factor alpha" ?

So my question is: Is tumor necrosing factor alpha now properly referred to as "tumor necrosing factor"?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is an old problem when nomenclature changes: People will still use the old nomenclature and it will only cease with time. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Nov 3, 2021 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris Are there some that refuse to call it by the new name, like those who insist on saying "degrees centigrade", even though they know the new name, but just don't want to be told what to say? Are there people who think the old name is better? Is the old name better? $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2021 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ I think it is simply a habit. I noticed the same with cMyc (old name) and Myc in another field. It took a while, eventually it came through. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Nov 3, 2021 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris When you say "a while", do you mean years or decades? $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2021 at 11:30
  • $\begingroup$ I observed this for a few years. But this is only anecdotal evidence. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Nov 3, 2021 at 12:05

1 Answer 1


In papers I've participated in recently we've called it TNFα. No reviewer has corrected us as far as I can recall.

Near as I can tell, we've done this because we do not read the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee database any more often than we read the dictionary cover-to-cover. Instead, we read and cite papers in the literature, and since many of those are older than this apparent change, and even more recent ones are in turn citing older papers, TNFα is the only nomenclature I knew of until your question posted here.

I could have guessed that a "TNFβ" or something similar exists/existed at some point, but I really have no knowledge or familiarity with it, certainly far less than with TNFα, so a renaming there is not really of any interest or relevance to me.

Biology is a massive field and every niche has its own set of terminology that is more or less familiar.

If people in the field decide over time to start using the new name, then that will propagate the new usage. I don't see a strong motivating factor to rename in the meantime: the old name isn't misleading or easily confused with something else, it's not derogatory or offensive, the new name doesn't provide additional context or function. If anything, there's a temporary motivation to not change, in that use of the old term far outnumbers use of the new.

I suppose you can think of me however you'd like based on my explanation here - I don't have much control over that.

  • $\begingroup$ I just realized that the Wikipedia article didn't explain why a change in the name of the gene means the name of the protein should be changed. Do I understand it correctly: tumor necrosing factor alpha is a protein? And not a gene? $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2021 at 2:30
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Tumor necrosis factor alpha is the protein product of the gene TNF in humans, which is also known as TNFA. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Nov 4, 2021 at 20:26

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