Eosinophils are important in antibody-mediated immune defense against parasites based on interaction with Ig receptors (FcR). Of the three classes of IgG FcR in humans, hFc gamma RI, II, and III, solely hFc gamma RII (CD32) is expressed on freshly isolated eosinophils. Despite an expression level similar to that found on monocytes and polymorphonuclear granulocytes, binding activity of hFc gamma RII on eosinophils is constitutively low. Freshly isolated eosinophils had a negligible ability to form rosettes with IgG-sensitized erythrocytes (EA-IgG). Addition of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) caused an approximately threefold increase in EA-IgG rosettes. This increase was maximal after 35 minutes, and declined upon further incubation at 37 degrees C. Analysis of hFc gamma RII expression levels showed no significant changes and neither was the expression of other hFc gamma R classes induced. Blocking studies with anti-Fc gamma receptor monoclonal antibody (MoAb) proved hFc gamma RII specificity of enhanced IgG complex binding. These phenomena were not restricted to GM- CSF action, because the addition of interleukin-3 or interleukin-5 similarly enhanced EA-IgG binding. The kinetics of activation of hFc gamma RII binding activity were paralleled by the binding of EA-C3bi to CR3 on eosinophils. In contrast to the stable expression of hFc gamma RII during activation with GM-CSF, CR3 expression increased slowly. Ligand binding via both types of opsonin receptors proved receptor specific. However, the kinetics of enhanced binding via hFc gamma RII and CR3 suggested the possibility of a common mechanism underlying the enhancement of ligand binding via hFc gamma RII and CR3. This hypothesis was supported by the fact that binding via hFc gamma RII proved sensitive to both high concentrations of F(ab')2 fragments of anti-CD11b MoAb MO1 and chelation of bivalent cations with EDTA. In conclusion, our studies indicate that cytokines can induce a transient enhancement of hFc gamma RII binding activity. Qualitative, and not quantitative, changes in this receptor appear to underly the modulation of binding activity, which may be linked to changes in CR3 activity.