The J-774 macrophage-like cell line has been established as a model for intracellular multiplication of pathogenic mycobacteria, permitting assessment of the intracellular bactericidal action of the macrophages after addition of both the drugs and immunomodulators. In this study, the action of immunomodulators was investigated. Significant morphological changes were demonstrated under the optical and scanning electron microscope (SEM), and the degree of macrophage activation was also measured by acid phosphatase (AcPase) cytochemistry, release of free oxygen radicals and by their ability to hinder the intracellular multiplication of virulent strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) and Mycobacterium avium (M.av). For This purpose, the macrophages were left to multiply during 3 days in the presence of 50 U/ml of recombinant murine gamma-interferon (INF), 4 micrograms/ml of 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3 (D3) and 50 micrograms/ml of lipopeptide RP-56142 (RP) added separately or in various possible combinations, and these "activated" cells were then challenged with viable bacteria. Parallel controls included bacterial multiplication in nonactivated macrophages and also extracellularly but under the same experimental conditions as in the macrophage experiments. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) using the AcPase marker to localize phagosome-lysosome fusion (PLF) in infected cells was also performed. Although all the immunomodulators used significantly changed the morphology of treated cells and increased the % of AcPase-positive cells, none had any effect on the release of oxygen radicals. On the other hand, guinea-pig alveolar macrophages which served as a parallel positive control, were activated by INF and D3 (but not RP) to release superoxide anions. Our data suggest that differential killing mechanisms for intracellular M.tb and M.av may exist. The results obtained also showed that established mycobactericidal mechanisms of the host could not solely account for the antimycobacterial effects observed. Consequently, mechanisms not yet revealed may account for some of the antimycobacterial effects observed.