We studied changes in the three types of Fc gamma receptor (FcR) on the THP-1 human monocytic leukemia cells, after incubation with the phorbol ester, PMA, which has been shown to alter the expression of several genes in these cells. THP-1 cells constitutively express FcRI and FcRII, and PMA down-regulated the expression of both FcRI and FcRII. The FcRIII expression was not detected on either untreated or PMA-treated cells. Addition of PMA to THP-1 cells also resulted in a dose-dependent decrease of CD4 expression, as well as in an increased expression of activation-associated antigens. PMA treatment was followed by a progressive decrease in the steady state level of FcRI mRNA, while FcRII mRNA levels did not change, pointing to different regulatory mechanisms at the pre- and post-transcriptional level respectively. The FcRIII mRNA was undetectable. In order to further delineate the mechanism by which PMA induces alterations in FcR expression, we treated cells with stimulators of protein kinase C, of Ca2+ calmodulin-dependent kinase, and of protein kinase A. Since stimulation of none of these second messenger systems induced similar alterations in FcR expression as PMA we next tested the effects of PMA on differentiation and arrest of proliferation. The changes in FcR only occurred at PMA concentrations capable of inducing cell adherence and an arrest of proliferation, and showed a relatively slow time pattern. This suggested that the alterations in FcR expression may be linked to partial differentiation into a more macrophage-like cell. The changes in FcR expression could furthermore be reproduced by 1,25(OH)2 vitamin D3, another agent capable of differenting monocytes. In conclusion, PMA treatment of THP-1 cells decreases FcRI gene transcription and membrane expression and reduces membrane expression of FcRII. Both changes might be linked with an arrest of cell growth and induction of differentiation.