Class I and class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) gene products are key recognition units in the induction and regulation of the immune response. Expression of class I and class II may be constitutive or inducible by cytokines such as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). A key step in the induction of MHC genes is recognition of IFN-gamma by its membrane receptor. The work described here examines the regulation of the occupied IFN-gamma receptor by the cytoskeleton. To do this the authors have used the fungal metabolites dihydrocytochalasin B (DHCB) and cytochalasin D (CD), substances that bind to actin filaments and thereby disrupt the cytoskeleton. The authors have studied the effect of DHCB and CD on IFN-gamma-induced MHC gene expression in 143 B cells, a human osteosarcoma-derived cell line. Herein the authors demonstrate that alterations in the cytoskeleton induced by DHCB and CD can lead to increases in IFN-gamma-induced MHC gene expression. Dihydrocytochalasin B added up to 3 hours after IFN-gamma results in a threefold to sixfold increase in levels of class II mRNA while producing minimal enhancement of class I gene expression. In contrast, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase mRNA expression was unaltered by IFN-gamma or by the cytochalasins. The increased amount of class II mRNA can be accounted for by a concomitant increase in transcription rate of this gene. Studies using 125I-IFN-gamma demonstrate that the occupied IFN-gamma receptor associates with a Triton X-100 insoluble fraction of 143 B cells and that DHCB and CD markedly inhibit this association. The results described here provide evidence that is consistent with the hypothesis that the activity of the occupied IFN-gamma receptor may be modulated by interactions with the cytoskeleton of the cell. This receptor may be one of a group of plasma membrane receptors that are sensitive to the action of cytochalasins after ligand binding.