B10.BR mice were injected i.v. with varying doses of recombinant IFN-gamma on three consecutive days. In tissue sections of 13 organs, the distribution of Ia antigens and Ia-associated invariant chain (Ii) was studied by using an immunoperoxidase technique. In the control animal, Ia and Ii were shown to be co-expressed in most tissues. However, on Kupffer cells, a small number of hepatocytes, and a subset of lymphocytes in lymph nodes and in the splenic red pulp only Ii, and no Ia, was detectable. In contrast, strongly Ia+ interdigitating reticulum cells of T-dependent areas of lymph nodes and spleen were only weakly stained for Ii. IFN-gamma treatment resulted in a dramatic increase of MHC antigen expression throughout the body, with striking differences in the inducibility of certain tissues for Ia and Ii: Bronchial epithelium was clearly induced to express the invariant chain, whereas Ia antigens remained entirely absent. Moreover, in kidney tubules and colon epithelium, Ii was induced more broadly than Ia. In contrast to the induction of Ii on endothelial cells of larger vessels in kidney, heart, and lungs, no de novo expression of Ia or Ii in capillary endothelial cells was observed. The number of detectable Ia+/Ii+ interstitial dendritic cells considerably increased upon exposure to IFN-gamma. Neither neurons nor glial cells were induced to MHC antigen expression. Our data demonstrate that IFN-gamma applied i.v. is a potent inducer or enhancer of Ia antigens and invariant chain in a variety of cell types.