Preincubation of rat anterior pituitary (AP) cells with homologous interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) caused a dose-dependent inhibition of ACTH secretion stimulated by CRF. The effect was seen in both monolayer and aggregate AP cell cultures and was not due to cytotoxicity. In monolayer cultures IFN-gamma also inhibited PRL and GH release stimulated by various hypothalamic releasing factors. IFN-gamma did not affect the time kinetics of the ACTH response to CRF. The dose needed for half-maximal inhibition amounted to approximately 1 (antiviral) U/ml. The effect of IFN-gamma was abrogated by an IFN-gamma-neutralizing monoclonal antibody. Furthermore, ACTH secretion by the AP cells was not affected by the anti-IFN-gamma antibody added alone, indicating that in the culture system no endogenous IFN-gamma is operational in regulating the ACTH response studied. Of the other cytokines tested [interleukin-1 (IL-1), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and interferon-alpha/beta (IFN-alpha/beta)] only TNF-alpha and IL-6 were found to inhibit CRF-stimulated ACTH release, although this inhibition was less pronounced than that caused by IFN-gamma. Lipopolysaccharide, even at high doses, did not significantly inhibit the ACTH response to CRF. These results identify IFN-gamma as one of the inflammatory cytokines that, like IL-1, TNF-alpha, and IL-6, have the potential to regulate pituitary function.