In our earlier studies we demonstrated that in HeLaM cells, interferon-alpha produces two functionally distinguishable signals, both of which are needed for induced transcription of mRNA 561 and other inducible mRNAs. Interferon-gamma cannot induce mRNA 561 because it produces only signal 1. Here we report that platelet-derived growth factor or epidermal growth factor could also produce signal 1. On the other hand, signal 2, which can be produced by interferon-alpha but not by interferon-gamma, could be elicited also by double-stranded RNA. Several lines of evidence suggest that the production of signal 2 by double-stranded RNA was not mediated through interferon. Interferon-induced transcription of mRNA 561 in HeLaM cells or in human fibroblast GM2767 cells was transient. However, in interferon-alpha-treated GM2767 cells, which had ceased to synthesize mRNA 561, transcription of this mRNA could be induced effectively by double-stranded RNA suggesting that this induction process could bypass the interferon-mediated down-regulation of induced transcription. Unlike HeLaM and GM2767 cells, in Daudi cells, induction of mRNA 561 by interferon-alpha was not transient. Transcription of this and two other induced mRNAs continued at a high rate even after 18 h of interferon-alpha treatment of these cells. The lack of down-regulation of interferon-induced gene expression may be responsible for interferon's acute antigrowth effects on these cells.