LFA-1 and LFA-3 expression is absent or low on Burkitt's lymphoma cell lines and low on the EBV-transformed B cell line UD61. Incubation of cells of BL2 and of UD61 with various concentrations of IL-4 resulted in induction of LFA-1 and LFA-3 expression in a dose dependent fashion. This effect was already observed after 16 h of incubation whereas maximal expression was obtained after 72 h. Induction of LFA-1 and LFA-3 expression seemed to be specific for IL-4, because IL-1, IL-2, IL-3, IFN-alpha, IFN-gamma and a low m.w. B cell growth factor were ineffective. LFA-1 and LFA-3 induction by IL-4 was blocked specifically by an anti-IL-4 antiserum. Induction of LFA-1 expression by IL-4 was furthermore confirmed at the specific LFA-1 beta-chain mRNA level. IL-4 was unable to induce LFA-1 expression on EBV-transformed lymphoblastoid cell lines of two LFA-1-deficient patients. BL2 grows as single cells, but induction of LFA-1 and LFA-3 expression by IL-4 was insufficient to induce homotypic cell adhesions and required PMA as a second signal. PMA alone did not induce LFA-1 antigen expression and was unable to induce adhesions between BL2 cells in the absence of IL-4 in 22 h assays. Addition of PMA to BL2 cells that expressed LFA-1 Ag upon incubation with IL-4 resulted in aggregate formation within 30 min. Adhesions between BL2 cells induced by IL-4 in combination with PMA were blocked by anti-LFA-1 beta or anti-LFA-1 alpha-chains mAb. In addition, these mAbs dispersed preformed aggregates of BL2 cells. Our results indicate that IL-4 can induce the adhesion molecules LFA-1 and LFA-3 on B cell lines, but that an additional activation signal provided by PMA was required for the induction of homotypic cell adhesions.