We report that melanoma cell lines expressing the interleukin-1 receptor exhibit 4- to 10-fold lower levels of mRNA of microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF-M) when treated with interleukin-1beta. This effect is NF-kappaB and JNK-dependent. MITF-M regulates the expression of melanocyte differentiation genes such as MLANA, tyrosinase and gp100, which encode antigens recognized on melanoma cells by autologous cytolytic T lymphocytes. Accordingly, treating some melanoma cells with IL-1beta reduced by 40-100% their ability to activate such antimelanoma cytolytic T lymphocytes. Finally, we observed large amounts of biologically active IL-1alpha or IL-1beta secreted by two melanoma cell lines that did not express MITF-M, suggesting an autocrine MITF-M downregulation. We estimate that approximately 13% of melanoma cell lines are MITF-M-negative and secrete IL-1 cytokines. These results indicate that the repression of melanocyte-differentiation genes by IL-1 produced by stromal cells or by tumor cells themselves may represent an additional mechanism of melanoma immune escape.