The CD30 surface molecule is a recently identified member of the tumor necrosis factor/nerve growth factor receptor superfamily. Within the cytoplasmic signal transducing domain, CD30 shares no significant homology to other members of this family. Signaling events engaged via CD30 are still unknown. We here identify the NF-kappabeta transcription factor as a target of the CD30-induced signal pathway in Hodgkin's disease (HD) cells. Exposure of HD cells to CD30 ligand induces release of interleukin-6 (IL-6) that can be duplicated by cross-linking HD- cells to an agonistic anti-CD30 specific monoclonal antibody (alphaCD30), but not by cross-linking to an isotype-identical irrelevant monoclonal antibody. Cross-linking of HD cells to alphaCD30 leads to enhanced accumulation of IL-6 mRNA in a time-dependent fashion resulting from transcriptional activation of the IL-6 promoter. Transient transfection assays using a series of deleted IL-6 promoter constructs linked to the human growth hormone gene as a reporter gene furthermore indicate that transcriptional activation of the IL-6 promoter requires the presence of an intact NF-kappabeta binding site. In addition, introduction of an NF-kappabeta binding site appeared to be sufficient to confer inducibility of an heterologous promoter on activation of CD30 in HD cells. Cross-linking of CD30 promotes rapid and transient binding activity of nuclear proteins to the NF-kappabeta recognition site of the IL-6 promoter. Supershift experiments using a series of monoclonal antibodies recognizing distinct members of the NF- kappaBeta transcription factor family furthermore indicate that in CD30 cross-linked HD cells p50, p65/Rel-A, and Rel-B are present, whereas the c-rel protein is not.