There is evidence that rhinovirus (RV) infections are frequent causes of increased asthmatic symptoms and can specifically enhance allergic inflammation in the airway. To further define effects of RV infection on cellular immunity, we have begun to develop in vitro models for study. When human PBMC were incubated with 35S-labeled RV16, specific binding via ICAM-1 on monocytes was observed. Incubation of PBMC with RV also led to a dose-related increase in the expression of the early activation marker CD69 on 30 to 70% of T cells. The RV16-induced increases in CD69 were blocked by anti-ICAM-1 mAb, and were not elicited by UV-inactivated (noninfectious) virus. The degree of CD69 enhancement correlated with the number of monocytes in mixtures of PBMC, did not occur in monocyte-depleted cultures, and was mediated by one or more soluble factor(s). RV also induced secretion of IFN-gamma from both peripheral blood T cells and NK cells, and IFN-gamma mRNA was greatest in T cells that were CD69+. Finally, supernatant from RV-activated CD3+CD69+ cells had biologic activity that promoted eosinophil survival in vitro; this RV16-associated activity was blocked when co-incubations were performed with IFN-gamma mAbs. These observations suggest that RV nonspecifically activates a large proportion of T cells through a monocyte-dependent mechanism. Such changes in vivo could enhance airway inflammation, and this may include effects on inflammatory cells in the airways of allergic individuals.