Recent interest in cancer therapy derives from the ability of interferons to synergistically increase the activity of chemotherapeutic agents. To understand the biological basis of this synergism we evaluated the effects of human recombinant IFN-gamma on the expression of the mdr1 gene and on the cellular growth of a human colon adenocarcinoma cell line (LoVo) and its MDR subline (LoVo/Dx) after coincubation with doxorubicin. Treatment with IFN-gamma showed unchanged levels of MDR1-glycoprotein, no perturbation on cell cycle distribution and a significant reduction of colony formation in both lines (P < 0.05) starting from 100 U/ml. A synergistic effect was observed in the LoVo/Dx cell line when doxorubicin was added after exposure to 0.1-10 U/ml of IFN-gamma. Our data indicate that the effects of IFN-gamma, independent from action on cell proliferation and from modulation of p-glycoprotein expression, are a cause of the synergistic activity between this lymphokine and conventional chemotherapeutic agents such as doxorubicin.