Cystic fibrosis (CF) is caused by mutations in the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, resulting in defective transepithelial Cl- transport. The regulation of CF gene expression is not fully understood. We report that interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), but not IFN-alpha or -beta, downregulates CFTR mRNA levels in two colon-derived epithelial cell lines, HT-29 and T84, in a time- and concentration (from 0.1 IU/ml)-dependent manner. IFN-gamma has no effect on the transcription rate of the CFTR gene but reduces CFTR mRNA half-life, indicating that it exerts a posttranscriptional regulation of CFTR expression, at least partly, through destabilization of the transcripts. Cells treated with IFN-gamma contain subnormal amounts of 165-kDa CFTR protein. Assays of adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate-stimulated 36Cl- efflux and whole cell currents show that CFTR function is diminished in IFN-gamma-treated cells. IFN-gamma and tumor necrosis factor-alpha synergistically reduce CFTR gene expression. Our results suggest that production of these cytokines in response to bacterial infections and inflammatory disorders may alter transmembrane Cl- transport.