With the use of an enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay to measure soluble human interleukin 2 receptors (IL 2R), certain human T cell leukemia virus I (HTLV I)-positive T cell lines were found to spontaneously release large quantities of IL 2R into culture supernatants. This was not found with HTLV I-negative and IL 2 independent T cell lines, and only one of seven B cell-derived lines examined produced small amounts of IL 2R. In addition to this constitutive production of soluble IL 2R by certain cell lines, normal human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) could be induced to release soluble IL 2R by plant lectins, the murine monoclonal antibody OKT3, tetanus toxoid, and allogeneic cells. Such activated cells also expressed cellular IL 2R measurable in detergent solubilized cell extracts. The generation of cellular and supernatant IL 2R was: dependent on cellular activation, rapid, radioresistant (3000 rad), and inhibited by cycloheximide treatment. NaDodSO4-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis analysis of soluble IL 2R released from either the HTLV I-positive T cell line HUT 102B2 or normal phytohemagglutinin-activated PBMC demonstrated molecules of apparent Mr = 35,000 to 40,000, and 45,000 to 50,000, respectively, somewhat smaller than the mature surface receptor on these cells. The release of soluble IL 2R appears to be a characteristic marker of T lymphocyte activation and might serve an immunoregulatory function during both normal and abnormal cell growth and differentiation.