Although recent studies suggest that interferons can increase the number of IgG Fc receptor (FcR gamma) sites on mouse macrophages, direct assessment of similar effects on human mononuclear phagocytes is lacking. We therefore measured the specific binding of 125I- and fluorescein-labeled IgG1 to human monocytes and leukemic cell lines after culture in vitro with highly purified human interferons. We report that natural and recombinant human gamma-interferon causes a dramatic (nearly 10-fold) increase in the number of FcR gamma on normal human monocytes and on the human cell lines HL-60 and U-937. Alpha and beta-interferons cause a modest but significant increase in these receptors. This report demonstrates that gamma-interferon acts directly on human mononuclear phagocytes to increase FcR gamma sites, it identifies a qualitative difference in the physiologic actions of human type I and type II interferons, and it suggests that HL-60 and U-937 cells will be important models for further study of the molecular mechanisms of interferon action. The results reported here could also be the basis for a bioassay to assess the pharmacokinetics and variability of gamma-interferon action on monocytes of individual patients during treatment in vitro and in vivo.