Receptors for the Fc region of immunoglobulin G (IgG) (Fc gamma Rs) exist in three main forms: membrane bound, soluble and cytoplasmic. The function of cytoplasmic Fc gamma Rs is poorly understood. We have previously demonstrated cytoplasmic Fc gamma RII (cCD32) within most normal human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL), including T cells. In this study we have investigated the hypothesis that following lymphocyte activation, up-regulation of cCD32 occurs, resulting in increased expression at the cell surface. Normal PBL were activated in vitro using a two-way mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) and expression of CD32 monitored by flow cytometry and by immunoperoxidase staining using specific monoclonal antibodies and aggregated mouse IgG subclasses. Furthermore, we designed oligonucleotide probes specific for the three main isoforms of CD32 and looked for changes in mRNA expression throughout the MLR using an in situ hybridization technique. Increased surface expression of CD32 was found on both activated human T and B lymphocytes, but this was found only in the early stages of the MLR, on days 3 and 4, and was virtually absent by day 7. An inverse relationship between cell surface expression of CD32 and mRNA for the IIb isoforms was noted with strong mRNA expression for IIb isoforms occurring in the later stages of the MLR (days 6-7) when interleukin-2R (IL-2R)-positive T cells were predominant. A soluble IgG binding factor (soluble CD32?) was also detected in the MLR culture supernatant. These observations provide support for the hypothesis that synthesis of IIb isoforms of CD32 occurs following alloantigen activation of human T lymphocytes.