Nineteen Chinese patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, seropositive for HBV e antigen (HBeAg) and HBV DNA on at least three occasions in 6 months, were randomised to receive either recombinant human interferon-gamma (rIFN gamma) 0.1 mg/m2 intramuscularly thrice weekly for 16 weeks (n = 11) or no anti-viral therapy (controls, n = 8). Five patients in the treatment group and four patients in the control group had persistently elevated serum alanine aminotransferases (ALT) of over two times the upper limit of normal before entering into the trial. rIFN gamma had no or minimal inhibitory effect on serum HBV DNA during treatment and no patient developed e-seroconversion or sustained loss of serum HBV DNA. Hepatitic flare, which occurred in a proportion of patients responding successfully to interferon-alpha (IFN alpha) therapy, was not observed with rIFN gamma treatment. Side-effects included pyrexia and mild headache that showed tachyphylaxis and were well tolerated by all patients. In the control group, one patient with elevated pre-entry serum ALT lost serum HBV DNA and seroconverted to anti-HBe. Another patient with elevated ALT lost serum HBV DNA transiently during therapy. In the dose given, rIFN gamma was safe but had no apparent anti-viral effects in Chinese patients with chronic HBV infection.