Activation of human peripheral blood monocytes results in the expression of interleukin 2 (IL 2) receptors, which are absent on resting monocytes. In a population of purified monocytes, the appearance of IL 2 receptors occurs on the majority of cells in association with increased levels of HLA-DR. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) induces maximum numbers of IL 2 receptors within 12 hr, whereas IFN-γ requires 48 hr. We used cDNA encoding for the human IL 2 receptor to evaluate IL 2 receptor gene expression in resting and activated monocytes. Within 4 hr after LPS stimulation, IL 2 receptor mRNA species of 3500 and 1500 bases appear, reaching peak levels between 8 and 12 hr and declining thereafter. The LPS-activated monocyte IL 2 receptor protein is expressed on the cell surface within a few hours after the detection of IL 2 receptor mRNA. The addition of IL 2 to IL 2 receptor-positive monocytes augments their generation of reactive oxygen intermediates and their cytotoxic activity. Thus monocytes when activated undergo a series of morphologic, phenotypic, and functional changes, including the expression of IL 2 receptors, which may provide an important immunoregulatory pathway.