Interferon alfa (IFN-alpha) is an approved therapeutic agent for chronic hepatitis C. To directly characterize the effects of IFN-alpha in humans, we used microarrays to profile gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from hepatitis C patients treated with IFN-alpha. Seven patients were studied using two strategies: (1) in vivo: PBMCs were collected immediately before the first dose of IFN-alpha, and 3 and 6 hours after the dose; (2) ex vivo: PBMCs that were collected before the first IFN-alpha dose were incubated with IFN-alpha for 3 and 6 hours. The microarray datasets were analyzed with significance analysis of microarrays (SAM) to identify genes regulated by IFN-alpha. We identified 516 named genes up-regulated at least 2-fold, at a false discovery rate (FDR) of less than 1%. In vivo and ex vivo studies generated similar results. No genes were identified as regulated differently between these 2 experimental conditions. The up-regulated genes belonged to a broad range of functional pathways and included multiple genes thought to be involved in the direct antiviral effect of IFN-alpha. Of particular interest, 88 genes directly relating to functions of immune cells were up-regulated, including genes involved in antigen processing and presentation, T-cell activation, lymphocyte trafficking, and effector functions, suggesting that IFN-alpha up-regulates multiple genes involving different aspects of immune responses to enhance immunity against hepatitis C virus. In conclusion, IFN-alpha-inducible genes can be identified in human PBMCs in vivo as well as ex vivo. Signature changes associated with different treatment outcomes may be found among these genes.