The authors investigated the ability of recombinant human gamma-interferon (rhIFN-gamma) to influence production of complement and expression of human leukocyte antigens (HLA) by human scleral fibroblasts in culture. Cell cultures were established by explanting sclera from normal human donor eyes. To study complement production, fibroblasts were treated with 500 units/ml rhIFN-gamma in cell culture, and media were tested for complement components by hemolytic assay after 0, 1, 3, 6, 9, and 11 days. To induce Class II HLAs, fibroblasts were exposed to rhIFN-gamma at concentrations ranging from 10-500 units/ml and incubated for 1, 3, and 6 days. The HLAs were detected by immunofluorescence in conjunction with flow cytometry. Class I antigen was detected using a monoclonal antibody directed against beta 2-microglobulin. Class II histocompatibility antigens were identified using monoclonal antibodies specific for HLA-DR, -DP, and -DQ. Although complement component C1 was produced constitutively in cell culture, the addition of rhIFN-gamma resulted in an increase in production. Complement components C2 and C4 were detected only after treatment with rhIFN-gamma. Complement production was completely inhibited by cycloheximide, and C3, C5, C6, and C7 were not present in cell culture media with or without rhIFN-gamma. Class I antigen was present on all cells before induction, and an increase in expression was noted after exposure to rhIFN-gamma. Class II antigens were absent before induction with rhIFN-gamma. After treatment with rhIFN-gamma, scleral fibroblasts expressed HLA-DR, -DP, and -DQ in a dose-dependent, time-related fashion. These findings suggest that rhIFN-gamma has multiple effects on scleral fibroblasts: (1) increased production of C1, (2) production of C2 and C4, (3) up-regulation of Class I antigen expression, and (4) expression of Class II antigens. They also suggest that scleral fibroblasts have the potential to participate in immunologic diseases of the eye.