TNF-alpha and type I IFN (IFN-alpha/beta) are present in the uteroplacental unit during the course of normal gestation. IFN-gamma is likely to be present during infections. To identify potential effects on two types of blastocyst-derived cells, TNF-alpha, IFN-alpha/beta, and IFN-gamma were tested for the ability to modulate proliferation and the expression of class I MHC Ag by rat trophoblast cells and embryonic fibroblasts. The three cytokines had opposite influences on cellular proliferation by the two types of cells. Growth of the trophoblast cells was inhibited by TNF-alpha, IFN-alpha/beta, and IFN-gamma, whereas both TNF-alpha and IFN-alpha/beta enhanced fibroblast proliferation. The two endogenous cytokines had different effects on class I Ag expression by trophoblast cells and fibroblasts: TNF-alpha failed to induce trophoblast cell class I Ag and IFN-alpha/beta was a poor inducer whereas fibroblast Ag were induced by both cytokines. Moreover, combinations of TNF-alpha and IFN did not increase trophoblast cell class I Ag whereas the same combinations synergized to induce class I Ag expression by fibroblasts. In contrast, IFN-gamma was a highly efficient inducer on both types of cells. The results suggest that 1) cytokines in the uteroplacental unit may orchestrate some of the events associated with placental and embryonic development by exerting differential effects on two embryologically distinct types of cells and that 2) infections may disrupt normal events.