Rat bone marrow-derived mononuclear phagocytes, virtually homogeneous with respect to the cell lineage, do not exhibit spontaneous tumoricidal activity in the resting state. When incubated with macrophage-activating lymphokines, rat recombinant interferon-gamma (IFN), or heat-killed Corynebacterium parvum, bone marrow-derived mononuclear phagocytes readily evolve tumoricidal activity. Whereas tumoricidal activity induced by lymphokines and/or rat recombinant IFN-gamma is short-lived, that elicited by C. parvum is maintained for at least 2 wk, provided that the C. parvum organisms are continuously present in the culture. After washing off extracellular organisms, C. parvum-induced tumoricidal activity decays rapidly, suggesting that sustained extracellular stimulation is required for its maintenance. Induction of tumoricidal activity by macrophage-activating lymphokines and/or rat recombinant IFN-gamma is fully prevented by polyclonal and monoclonal anti-IFN-gamma antibodies; in contrast, induction by C. parvum is not affected by anti-IFN-gamma. Since induction of tumoricidal activity by C. parvum takes place irrespective of the presence of anti-Thy-1 antisera or cyclosporin A, T cells and/or their products appear not to be involved in this type of macrophage activation. Accordingly, present findings provide evidence for the existence of lymphokine-independent pathways of macrophage activation.