Prothymosin alpha (ProT alpha) is an acidic polypeptide with potentiating effects on HLA-DR-restricted in vitro cellular immune response systems such as T cell proliferative responses to soluble proteins and cellular auto- or alloantigens. Experiments were performed to investigate the effect of ProT alpha on MHC class II Ag expression in human monocytes, murine splenocytes, and tumor cell lines at both protein and molecular levels. RIA and immunofluorescence analysis revealed that ProT alpha enhances HLA-DR surface Ag expression whereas Northern blot analysis demonstrated that ProT alpha causes significant accumulation of MHC class II mRNA. The enhancing effect of ProT alpha was demonstrated convincingly using precultured human peripheral monocytes, which are known to express decreased amounts of surface HLA-DR Ag, and HLA-DR-positive human cell lines. Moreover, ProT alpha was shown to induce HLA-DR Ag expression in a priori HLA-DR-negative tumor cells. Furthermore, ProT alpha was shown to be active in vivo. Splenocytes from mice pretreated with ProT alpha expressed more surface Ilpha Ag and contained more I alpha-specific mRNA. These findings suggest that ProT alpha may be important in the regulation of the immune response by enhancing MHC class II Ag expression in APC.