Human melanoma cells can be reprogrammed to terminally differentiate and irreversibly lose proliferative capacity by appropriate pharmacological manipulation. Subtraction hybridization identified melanoma differentiation-associated gene-5 (mda-5) as a gene induced during differentiation, cancer reversion, and programmed cell death (apoptosis). This gene contains both a caspase recruitment domain and putative DExH group RNA helicase domains. Atypical helicase motifs of MDA-5 deviate from consensus sequences but are well conserved in a potentially new group of cloned and hypothetical proteins. mda-5 is an early response gene inducible by IFN and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, responding predominantly to IFN-beta. Protein kinase C activation by mezerein further augments mda-5 expression induced by IFN-beta. Expression of mda-5 is controlled transcriptionally by IFN-beta, and the MDA-5 protein localizes in the cytoplasm. mda-5 displays RNA-dependent ATPase activity, and ectopic expression of mda-5 in human melanoma cells inhibits colony formation. In these contexts, mda-5 may function as a mediator of IFN-induced growth inhibition and/or apoptosis. MDA-5 is a double-stranded RNA-dependent ATPase that contains both a caspase recruitment domain and RNA helicase motifs, with a confirmed association with growth and differentiation in human melanoma cells.