In this study, we have analyzed the possibility of inducing T cell responses against small cell lung cancer (SCLC), a still incurable tumor, by cytokine gene transfer approaches. By RT-PCR analysis most SCLC expressed the CTL-defined tumor antigens MAGE-3 (10/11), MAGE-1 (7/11) and less frequently BAGE (4/11) and GAGE1,2 (4/11). Although the surface expression of HLA class I molecules was low on most SCLC, thus preventing CTL recognition, treatment of the cells with IFN-gamma enhanced HLA-class I levels in all cases. Two MAGE3+ SCLC cell lines displaying the A2 HLA-class I allele, involved in MAGE-3 antigen presentation to CTL, were stably transfected with the IFN-gamma gene (alone or co-transfected with IL-2). IFN-gamma-transfected cells displayed a clearcut increase in expression of HLA-class I and beta 2-microglobulin at both protein and mRNA level, and of TAP-1 and TAP-2 mRNA. Perhaps more importantly, IFN-gamma transfected cells were recognized by the MAGE-3-specific A2-restricted antimelanoma CTL clone 297/22, while unmodified cells or cells transfected with the IL-2 gene alone were not. These data indicate that IFN-gamma gene transfection into HLA-deficient SCLC cells is able to restore their ability to present endogenous tumor antigens to CTL and that IFN-gamma gene transfer approaches may be attempted to induce specific CTL responses in SCLC.