We have investigated if interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) treatment of human K562 tumor cells, which upregulates the expression of MHC class I antigens (MHC-I), simultaneously would influence insulin binding. Treatment of K562 cells with recombinant human IFN-gamma for 48 h caused a significant increase of insulin binding at 37 degrees C. Recombinant human tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) alone had no effect but acted synergistically with IFN-gamma, leading to a two-fold increase of insulin binding. No change in affinity, number of binding sites or cell surface expression of insulin receptors (IR) after IFN-gamma treatment could be detected. The increased insulin binding observed at 37 degrees C was not seen at 4 degrees C, suggesting alteration of insulin internalization. The dose-response curve, as well as the time curve, for the increase in insulin binding after IFN-gamma treatment correlated with enhanced cell surface expression of MHC-I antigens. However, the correlation was not absolute. Our results show that IFN-gamma treatment alone or together with TNF-alpha, can alter the insulin binding to K562 cells without changing the expression or affinity of the IR. This correlates with the effect of IFN-gamma on MHC-I expression. These results support the findings that MHC-I molecules associate and interact with the IR at the cell surface.