A means of regulating the fate of intracellular proteins is their covalent conjugation to ubiquitin-like proteins. A recently discovered ubiquitin-like protein is called "diubiquitin" because it consists of two ubiquitin-like domains in head-to-tail arrangement. Human diubiquitin is encoded at the telomeric end of the MHC class I locus and was previously found to be expressed in dendritic cells and mature B cells. We have extended the expression analysis of diubiquitin by reverse transcriptase-PCR and Northern blotting in primary endothelial cells and human cancer cell lines derived from nine different tissues. Diubiquitin expression was found to be generally and synergistically inducible with the cytokines IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha but not with IFN-alpha. Diubiquitin mRNA expression was induced within 2 h after cytokine stimulation and was independent of protein neosynthesis but dependent on proteasome activity. The mouse homologue of diubiquitin which is also encoded in the MHC class I locus was likewise induced with IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha. A general and synergistic induction with IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha suggests that diubiquitin may exert its functions in antigen presentation or other cellular processes controlled by these two cytokines.