Allograft inflammatory factor-1 (AIF-1) is a Ca2+-binding peptide that constitutes a potential modulator of macrophage activation and function during the immune response of the brain. Peptides termed microglia response factor-1 or ionized calcium-binding adaptor molecule- have been reported to be identical with AIF-1. We have investigated the expression of AIF-1 in the rat C6 glioblastoma and 9L gliosarcoma tumor models and additionally assessed AIF- expression in a diverse range of human astrocytomas by immunohistochemistry. AIF-1 was expressed by activated microglial cells and a subset of infiltrating macrophages in areas of infiltrative tumor growth and in compact tumor areas in both rat and human gliomas. Double-labeling experiments in rats and humans characterized the nature and the functional status of AIF-1+ cells. AIF-1 expression was detected in cells expressing major histocompatibility complex class II molecules and in a subset of activated macrophages/microglial cells. All MRP-8+ cells coexpressed AIF-1. In humans, there was a strong correlation of AIF-1-expressing activated macrophages/microglial cells with tumor malignancy (P < 0.0001). These results suggest that AIF-1 defines a distinct subset of tumor-associated activated macrophages/ microglial cells.