Alveolar macrophages (AMs) were analyzed for ability to support replication of the intracellular bacterium Francisella tularensis live vaccine strain (LVS). AM supported in vitro growth (2 to 3 logs over 5 days) of LVS with a doubling time of 8 +/- 0.8 h. AMs were analyzed for responsiveness to rIFN-gamma for destruction of this lung pathogen. AM treated with 50 U/ml rIFN-gamma allowed early growth of bacteria (six doublings over 48 h) but between 48 and 96 h rIFN-gamma-treated AM eliminated 1.5 logs of LVS. AMs were sensitive to effects of rIFN-gamma; as little as 5 U/ml rIFN-gamma stimulated AM antimicrobial activity, with half-maximal activity 0.3 U/ml. rIFN-gamma-induced antimicrobial effects in AM correlated with amount of nitrites produced, but nitric oxide played only a minimal role in antibacterial effects induced in AM, because NG-MMLA (specific inhibitor of L-arginine-dependent nitric oxide production) failed to block antimicrobial activity of IFN-gamma-stimulated AM. IL-10, TGF-beta 1, and IFN-alpha (cytokines known to regulate effector functions of activated macrophages) also did not block anti-F. tularensis activity of IFN-gamma-stimulated AM. Reactive oxygen metabolites, depletion of tryptophan, and sequestration of iron did not contribute to anti-F. tularensis activity because addition of superoxide dismutase or catalase, excess iron, or tryptophan to IFN-gamma-treated AM did not reverse the anti-F. tularensis activity observed in these cells. Regulation of AM effector activity differed from that of other macrophage populations, in that while rIFN-gamma-stimulated AM produced TNF-alpha (100 U/ml at 72 h), TNF-alpha was not required as a costimulator for induction of antimicrobial activities by rIFN-gamma because anti-TNF-alpha treatment of rIFN-gamma-stimulated AM blocked TNF-alpha but had no effect on either production of nitrites or anti-F. tularensis activity.