Gelatin microspheres containing recombinant human interferon alpha A/D (A/D-IFN) (IFN-microspheres) potentiated the antitumor activity of mouse peritoneal macrophages (M phi) much more efficiently than free A/D-IFN. M phi acquired the inhibitory activity on tumor cell growth by the ingestion of IFN-microspheres without the aid of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), though LPS was required as a second signal for activating M phi primed with free IFN. The IFN-microspheres were much more efficient than free IFN plus LPS in respect of the IFN amount and the time required for M phi activation. Furthermore, M phi pretreated with the IFN-microspheres maintained their activated state for a much longer period than those pretreated with free A/D-IFN plus LPS. A monoclonal anti-IFN-alpha A antibody, which was capable of neutralizing A/D-IFN, did not interfere with the M phi activation by the IFN-microspheres. Even human IFN-alpha A was effective in activating murine M phi similarly to A/D-IFN, when given in the form of IFN-microspheres, though human IFN-alpha A in the free form was ineffective. These results argue that the mechanism of M phi activation by the IFN-microspheres is different from that by free IFN.