Interleukin 1 (IL-1) is a protein with several biological activities regulating host defense and immune responses. We report here the isolation of human IL-1 cDNA. It encodes a precursor polypeptide of 269 amino acids (30,747 Mr). mRNA isolated by hybridization to this cDNA was translated in a reticulocyte cell-free system, yielding immunoprecipitable IL-1. Furthermore, this hybrid-selected mRNA was injected into Xenopus laevis oocytes, which subsequently secreted biologically active IL-1. The cDNA nucleotide sequence suggests that IL-1 is initially translated as a precursor molecule that is subsequently processed into the 15,000-20,000 Mr protein usually associated with IL-1 activity.