The T-cell-specific receptor, CTLA-4, has been demonstrated to be a potent negative regulator of lymphocyte activation, the functional significance of which has been demonstrated in murine tumor models using blocking antibodies. However, the mechanism(s) involved in enhancing tumor regression has not been identified. In this study, we determined whether IFN gamma was playing a role in this activity. In vitro, anti-CTLA-4 enhanced IFN gamma production by lymph node cells obtained from tumor-bearing mice (351 pg/ml vs 77 pg/ml). Additionally, fibrosarcoma-challenged animals treated with anti-CTLA-4 had elevated levels of the IFN-inducible enzyme 2-5-OAS in draining lymph nodes (850 pM vs 260 pM for controls) and an increased amount of IFN gamma in tumor lysates (at day 7, 620 pg/100 micrograms vs 160 pg/100 micrograms in controls). The importance of IFN gamma was demonstrated by the ability of neutralizing antibodies to completely abrogate the anti-tumor effects of anti-CTLA-4. Moreover, fibrosarcoma cells were shown to be exquisitely sensitive to IFN gamma-mediated class I upregulation and histological examination of tumors from anti-CTLA-4-treated mice revealed a trend toward increased tumor cell apoptosis and decreased angiogenesis. These studies have demonstrated that one mechanism for the anti-tumor effects of anti-CTLA-4 relates to its ability to augment IFN gamma production, resulting in an increased expression of class I on the tumor, enhanced apoptosis, and a decrease in blood vessel growth.