The mechanism of IFN resistance was examined in three long-term cell lines, SK-MEL-28, SK-MEL-3, and MM96, exhibiting significant variation in responsiveness to the antiproliferative and antiviral effects of type I IFNs. The JAK-STAT components involved in IFN signal transduction were analyzed in detail. After exposure to IFN, activation of the IFN type I receptor-linked tyrosine kinases, JAK-1 and TYK-2, was detected at similar levels in both IFN-sensitive and IFN-resistant cell types, indicating that IFN resistance did not result from a deficiency in signaling at the level of receptor-associated kinase activation. However, analysis of ISGF3 transcription factor components, STAT1, STAT2, and p48-ISGF3gamma, revealed that their expression and activation correlated with cellular IFN responsiveness. The analysis was extended to also include IFN-sensitive primary melanocytes, three additional IFN-resistant melanoma cell lines, and seven cell cultures recently established from melanoma patient biopsies. It was consistently observed that the most marked difference in ISGF3 was a lack of STAT1 in the resistant versus the sensitive cells. Transfection of the IFN-resistant MM96 cell line to express increased levels of STAT1 protein partially restored IFN responsiveness in an antiviral assay. We conclude that a defect in the level of STAT1 and possibly all three ISGF3 components in IFN-resistant human melanoma cells may be a general phenomenon responsible for reduced cellular responsiveness of melanomas to IFNs.