IFN-gamma can be physicochemically distinguished from interferons-alpha, -beta or -omega through the loss of its tertiary structure and biological activity upon exposure to acid or heat. This loss is due to the irreversible aggregation of an unfolded or partially folded state. The conformational instability of IFN-gamma is reflected by its impairment to fold properly when overexpressed in Escherichia coli, resulting in its accumulation in cytoplasmic inclusion bodies. Chaperones were originally identified as a heterogeneous group of proteins that mediate the folding and correct assembly of various polypeptide substrates, and protect thermolabile proteins against inactivation. In either of both cases, chaperones prevent irreversible misfolding by assisting the substrate protein along its pathway to a stable tertiary conformation. Among the best characterized chaperones are the Escherichia coli Hsp60 and Hsp70 heat shock protein complexes, i.e., GroEL/GroES and DnaK/DnaJ/GrpE. They exhibit entirely different reaction mechanisms, which, however, both depend on hydrolysis of ATP. The unfolding of recombinant IFN-gamma by acid or heat can be used as a tool to assess its in vitro interaction with each of both chaperone systems at physiological temperature (35 degrees C). Using such an experimental set-up, both the DnaK and GroEL chaperone systems appeared to form complexes with IFN-gamma from which correctly folded protein was released in an ATP-dependent manner. In addition to the biotechnological implication of these observations, the relevance to de novo folding of IFN-gamma is discussed.