By utilizing the human melanoma cell line Colo 38, a panel of monoclonal antibodies, and a combination of serologic and immunochemical assays, the effect of recombinant immune interferon (IFN-gamma) on the synthesis, expression, and shedding of a cytoplasmic melanoma-associated antigen (MAA) and of the membrane-bound high m.w. MAA (HMW-MAA), 115K MAA, and 100K MAA has been investigated. IFN-gamma increased the synthesis and shedding of the cytoplasmic MAA, but reduced the synthesis and cell surface expression of the HMW-MAA and of the 100K MAA. The cell surface expression of the 115K MAA on IFN-gamma-treated melanoma cells was reduced, although its synthesis was not markedly changed. The effects were dose-dependent and were related to the incubation time of cells with IFN-gamma. Among the three membrane-bound MAA analyzed, the 100K MAA was the most susceptible to modulation by IFN-gamma. The effects of IFN-gamma preparations are not mediated by contaminants in IFN-gamma preparations because removal of IFN-gamma by affinity chromatography on anti-IFN-gamma monoclonal antibodies abolished its modulating activity. The effects of IFN-gamma on the cytoplasmic MAA are similar to those of leukocyte and fibroblast interferons, whereas those on the membrane-bound MAA are significantly different. The potential implications of the marked changes in the antigenic profile of melanoma cells treated with IFN-gamma are discussed in view of the changes in the immunogenicity of IFN-gamma-treated melanoma cells.