The detection and localization of interleukin (IL) 1 in human monocytes was carried out by flow cytometry using monoclonal antibodies to IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta proteins. IL-1 alpha was detected on the surface of monocytes and the surface expression increased following lipopolysaccharide activation. No demonstrable IL-1 beta protein could be observed on the cell surface by antibody staining, while both IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta could be visualized intracellularly by the appropriate monoclonal antibodies following acetone permeabilization of the monocytes. Further experiments with cell associated IL-1 revealed that most of the biological activity of human monocytes could be inhibited by affinity purified polyclonal antibodies to IL-1 alpha protein, whereas no inhibitory activity was observed with IL-1 beta specific antibodies. These data support the hypothesis that a differential localization of IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta exists within human blood-derived monocytes.