Interferons, in addition to their antiviral activity, induce a multiplicity of effects on different cell types. Interferon (IFN)-gamma exerts a unique regulatory effect on cells of the mononuclear phagocyte lineage. To investigate whether the antiviral and antiproliferative effects of IFN-gamma in macrophages can be genetically dissociated, and whether IFN-alpha and IFN-gamma use the same cellular signals and/or effector mechanisms to achieve their biologic effects, we have derived a series of somatic cell genetic variants resistant to the antiproliferative and/or antiviral activities of IFN-gamma. Two different classes of variants were found: those resistant to the antiproliferative and antiviral effects of IFN-gamma against vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) and those resistant to the antiproliferative effect, but protected against VSV and encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV) lysis by IFN-gamma. In addition, a third class of mutants was obtained that was susceptible to the growth inhibitory activity, but resistant to the antiviral activity of IFN-gamma. Analysis of these mutants has provided several insights regarding the regulatory mechanisms of IFN-gamma and IFN-alpha on the murine macrophage cell lines. The antiproliferative activity of IFN-gamma on these cells, in contrast to that of IFN-alpha, is mediated by a cAMP-independent pathway. The antiproliferative and antiviral activities of IFN-gamma were genetically dissociated. Variants were obtained that are growth resistant but antivirally protected, or are growth inhibited but not antivirally protected against VSV or EMCV. The genetic analysis indicated that IFN-alpha and IFN-gamma regulate the induction of the dsRNA-dependent P1/eIF-2 alpha protein kinase and 2',5'-oligoadenylate synthetase enzymatic activities via different pathways. Finally, a unique macrophage mutant was obtained that was protected by IFN-gamma against infection by VSV, but not EMCV, suggesting that antiviral mechanisms involved in protection against these different types of RNA viruses must be distinct at some level.