Chimeric CD20 monoclonal antibody as alternative therapy in relapsed low-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) has produced responses in nearly 50% of patients. Augmenting CD20 expression on tumor cells and/or inducing its expression may increase the cell kill and effectiveness of antibody therapy. Peripheral blood lymphocytes from 19 patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) were incubated in vitro in the presence of interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) (500 U/ml and 1,000 U/ml) for 24 and 72 hours. The effect on CD20 expression was studied by flow cytometry. The differences in the percentage positivity, the mean fluorescence intensity (MFI), and the product of percentage positivity and MFI were used to assess upregulation. There was a significant upregulation of CD20 expression on B cells seen at both concentrations after 24-hour priming (p < 0.01). B-CLL cells cultured for 72 hours in the presence of IFN-alpha also showed upregulation of CD20 expression; however, the degree of upregulation was much lower than that seen at 24 hours. There was no statistically significant increase in CD20 antigen expression on normal lymphocytes following cytokine exposure. These results suggest that IFN-alpha priming may augment the effectiveness of antibody therapy by directly upregulating CD20 antigen expression in addition to its indirect action through effector cells of the host.