The effects of human interleukin-6 (hIL-6), the major acute-phase inducer, on the level of the transcript of microsomal heme oxygenase (HO) were examined in a human hepatoma cell line, Hep3B. Messenger RNAs (mRNAs) encoding HO and haptoglobin (Hpt) increased after hIL-6 treatment in a time- and dose-dependent manner. hIL-6 had no effect on the induction of heat-shock protein 70 (hsp70) mRNA, suggesting that the induction of HO by hIL-6 is regulated by a different mechanism from that which mediates the heat-shock induction of this enzyme. The hIL-6- mediated induction of HO mRNA was completely abrogated by simultaneous treatment of cells with actinomycin D, but not with cycloheximide, suggesting that the induction occurs at the level of transcription. A nuclear factor was shown both in untreated, and in the hIL-6-treated Hep3B cells that binds specifically to the IL-6-responsive element (IL6- RE) of the human HO gene. These findings suggest that HO is a positive acute-phase reactant in this human liver-derived cell line, and that the nuclear factor specific to the IL6-RE may be involved in the activation of the HO gene after hIL-6 treatment.