Leukotrienes play a critical role in promoting bronchoconstriction in asthma. The purpose of this study was to examine whether interferon (IFN)-gamma, a cytokine upregulated in asthmatic airways, modulates leukotriene (LT)D4 receptor expression and contractile responses in cultured human airway smooth muscle (HASM) cells. Treatment of HASM cells with IFN-gamma (10 to 1,000 U/ml) stimulated a dose-dependent increase in cell-surface expression of cysteinyl leukotriene receptor 1 (CysLT1) as determined by flow cytometry. CysLT1 messenger RNA (mRNA) levels were also significantly enhanced by IFN-gamma, as demonstrated by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. To determine the functional relevance of increased CysLT1 expression in HASM, cell stiffness responses to LTD4 were measured with magnetic twisting cytometry. IFN-gamma (1,000 U/ml for 24 h) markedly increased LTD4-induced changes in cell stiffness, from 4.6 +/- 1 [mean +/- SEM]% to 24.4 +/- 3.7% (n = 8, p < 0.05). Montelukast, a CysLT1 antagonist, completely inhibited LTD4-induced increases in cell stiffness. IFN-gamma had no effect on the cell stiffness responses to bradykinin, another contractile agonist. Collectively, these data suggest that IFN-gamma increases LTD4 responses in HASM cells by increasing cell-surface expression of CysLT1. Our data suggest that increased levels of IFN-gamma in asthmatic individuals may promote airway hyperresponsiveness and asthma exacerbations by directly modulating contractile responses of HASM.