Insects rely on both humoral and cellular mechanisms to defend themselves against microbial infections. The humoral response involves synthesis of a battery of potent antimicrobial peptides by the fat body and, to a lesser extent, by blood cells. The cellular response on the other hand consists of phagocytosis of small microorganisms and melanization and encapsulation of larger parasites. The l(2)mbn cell line, established from tumorous larval hemocytes, represents a system of choice to dissect the molecular events controlling cellular immunity. We report here that l(2)mbn cells can be efficiently induced to differentiate in adherent, macrophage-like cells by treatment with 20-hydroxyecdysone. Ecdysone treatment increases both the phagocytic capacity of l(2)mbn cells and their competence to express antimicrobial genes in response to immune challenge. We also report that expression of several regulatory molecules thought to be involved in the immune response is up-regulated by ecdysone in l(2)mbn cells.