The effects of interleukin 3 (IL 3), IL 4, IL 6, and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) on lymphocyte migration have been investigated and compared with those of transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1), granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF), and macrophage colony stimulating factor (MCSF). Potent, temperature-dependent stimulation of lymphocyte migration was obtained in response to IL 3 and IL 4 (ED50 less than 10(-11) M and less than 10(-13) M, respectively) and this migration was abolished in the presence of 3 micrograms ml-1 cytochalasin B. IL 6 and IFN-gamma were less active (ED50 greater than or equal to 10(-9) M and greater than or equal to 10(-8) M, respectively), maximal migration in response to IFN-gamma being only 30% above background as compared with approximately 250% for IL 3 and IL 4. TGF-beta 1, GCSF, and MCSF failed to stimulate lymphocyte migration in doses similar to those used for IL 3, IL 4, and IL 6. The presence of antisera to IL 3, IL 4, and IL 6 specifically inhibited lymphocyte migration induced by the corresponding cytokines (IC50 values being 1/10,000, greater than 1/30,000, and greater than 1/30,000 dilution of antibody, respectively). Cross-desensitization experiments using IL 3 and IL 4 demonstrated that neither IL 3 nor IL 4 were able to stimulate dose-related lymphocyte migration in cells preincubated with IL 3. Cells preincubated with IL 4 were only stimulated by a supraoptimal concentration of IL 4 (10(-11) M). The induction of lymphocyte migration by IL 3, IL 4, and IL 6 therefore appears to be a specific and potentially important effect of these cytokines. Cross-desensitization of lymphocytes by IL 3 and IL 4 raises the possibility that the induction of lymphocyte migration by these cytokines may occur through a common postreceptor signal transduction mechanism.