The therapeutic unconjugated anti-CD20 Mab rituximab is used for the treatment of B-non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. We have studied the direct biological effects, signalling and gene expression profiles induced by rituximab in two human B-lymphoma cell lines, DHL4 and BJAB, using microarray, quantitative PCR and gel shift analysis. Rituximab alone inhibited thymidine uptake and induced homotypic adhesion in DHL4 only, but not BJAB. Analysis of Affymetrix microchips carrying probes for about 10,000 human cDNAs, allowed us to identify 16 genes in DHL4 and 12 in BJAB induced by rituximab at 4 h. Eleven and seven of these genes were specific for DHL4 and BJAB, respectively; whereas the remaining five were up-regulated in both cell lines. Mean induction ranged from 2- to 16-fold. Real time PCR analysis allowed us to confirm up-regulation of all genes identified, except one in BJAB. Time course of induction of eight genes was studied, showing peak induction in most cases at 4 h. The up-regulation of 5/5 genes was also observed with the F(ab')(2) fragment of rituximab. Analysis of three further B-cell lymphoma lines showed that gene induction is not restricted to BJAB and DHL4. Finally, we show that rituximab alone can induce AP1 activation in both cell lines and provide evidence that the ERK1/2 pathway is involved in the rituximab-mediated up-regulation of gene expression. These data demonstrate that rituximab alone has direct signalling capacity in different B-lymphoma lines, inducing distinct but overlapping sets of genes which may play a role in the biological and/or therapeutic effect of the antibody.