We have previously shown that in mixed cultures of PBL incubation with human rIL-2 induces the rapid expression of IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta mRNA. Because studies have demonstrated that IL-2R can be expressed on the surface of human peripheral blood monocytes, we chose to investigate whether IL-1 beta mRNA could be directly induced in purified human monocytes by treatment with Il-2 and, if so, to analyze the second messenger pathways by which it may be controlled. Human monocytes do not spontaneously express IL-1 beta mRNA, but can express the gene as soon as 1 h after treatment with IL-2. The level of IL-1 beta mRNA induced by IL-2 at 5 h in human monocytes was about one-fourth that induced by LPS. LPS induction of IL-1 beta mRNA in human monocytes can be blocked by either an inhibitor of protein kinase C (PKc) 1-(5-isoquinolinesulfonyl)-2-methylpiperazine or an inhibitor of calcium/calmodulin (CaM) kinase N-(6-aminohexyl) 5-chloro-1-naphthalenesulfonamide, suggesting that both PKc and CaM kinase are involved in transducing signals initiated by LPS. In contrast, IL-2 induction of IL-1 beta mRNA expression is blocked only by 1-(5-isoquinolinesulfonyl)-2-methylpiperazine, suggesting that PKc, and not CaM kinase, is activated by IL-2. These data suggest that overlapping but distinct second messenger pathways are involved in the transduction of signals initiated by IL-2 and LPS.