The purpose of this study was to determine whether human fibroblasts express CD40, a 50-kDa member of the tumor necrosis factor-alpha-receptor superfamily. CD40 is an important mitogenic receptor on B lymphocytes which regulates B lymphocyte proliferation and differentiation. Interestingly, CD40 mRNA was detected in human lung, gingival, synovial, dermal (foreskin), and spleen fibroblasts using the reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. Moreover, the CD40 protein was detected on cultured human fibroblasts using anti-CD40 mAbs (G28-5, EA-5) and flow cytometry and on fibroblasts in dermal tissue sections via in situ staining. In contrast to B lymphocytes, where CD40 expression is unregulated both by interleukin-4 and interferon (IFN-gamma), CD40 expression on cultured human fibroblasts could only be upregulated by IFN-gamma. IFN-gamma induced a 10-fold increase in CD40 mRNA and protein levels. Furthermore, via a two-color staining technique for CD40 expression and DNA content, IFN-gamma not only upregulated CD40 expression on cultured human fibroblasts, but also shifted fibroblasts into the G0/G1 phase of the cell cycle. This observation suggested that nonproliferating fibroblasts might display elevated levels of CD40. To test this hypothesis, CD40 expression was analyzed on fibroblasts in log phase growth vs fibroblasts which had reached confluency and were nonproliferating. Interestingly, confluent fibroblasts expressed higher levels of CD40 than fibroblasts in log phase growth. These data suggest that CD40 expression by human fibroblasts is related to cell growth. In summary, this report is the first to demonstrate that human fibroblasts from a variety of tissues display CD40. While the function of CD40 on fibroblasts is not yet known, it may facilitate fibroblast proliferation, an event important for tissue repair, and may facilitate inflammation via interaction with T lymphocytes and mast cells, which display the CD40 ligand.