The role of gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) in T cell-replacing factor (TRF) activity for antigen-specific plaque-forming cell (PFC) responses in vitro was studied using antibodies to murine IFN-gamma (Mu IFN-gamma). TRF activity was present in supernatants (Sn) of Con A- or mixed leukocyte reaction-stimulated murine spleen cells as well as in an IL-2-rich fraction of phytohemagglutinin-stimulated human peripheral blood lymphocyte Sn and in the Sn of the Gibbon T lymphoma MLA-144. The human TRF was highly active with cells from nu/nu mice and normal mice but not with cells from animals with the xid immunologic defect, similar to the activity of murine TRF. Antibodies to IFN-gamma consisted of hyper-immune rabbit antisera, IFN-gamma affinity-purified rabbit immunoglobulin and an interspecies hybridoma specific for Mu IFN-gamma. The results show that the activities of all preparations of TRF are markedly diminished or abrogated by antibody to Mu IFN-gamma but not by antibodies to human IFN-gamma (Hu IFN-gamma), nor by normal rabbit sera or purified rabbit Ig. The degree of inhibition was dose dependent and was quantitatively reversed by the addition to the cultures of recombinant-derived Mu IFN-gamma (Mu rIFN-gamma) but not Hu rIFN-gamma. This reversal was fully antigen specific and thus not attributable to polyclonal B cell activation by IFN-gamma, which is inactive alone in the TRF assay. Kinetic analysis shows that IFN-gamma must act by 24-48 h to produce PFC responses at 4 d. Together, the data demonstrate that IFN-gamma is a necessary mediator for TRF effects and that IFN-gamma is induced by TRF from T-depleted murine spleen cells in sufficient quantity to support large antibody responses. The source of this IFN-gamma may be the potent natural killer cells that are induced in cultures stimulated with TRF.