Human monocytes express interleukin-2 receptor beta (IL-2R beta) constitutively; however, the function of these receptors has not been fully delineated. We discovered that IL-2R beta directs two biologic activities in human monocytes, the release of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and increased susceptibility to lysis by lymphokine-activated killer cells (LAK) cells. Human monocytes were purified from peripheral blood mononuclear cells by plastic adherence and anti-CD2 plus complement lysis. By a 5-hour 51Cr-release assay, monocytes cultured in IL-2 were found to gain increasing susceptibility to LAK cells with time and this effect was dose dependent. Maximal susceptibility was obtained with a 4-day culture in 1,000 U/mL of IL-2. Monocytes were also found to release GM-CSF in response to IL-2 using a CSF-dependent cell line, Mo7e. Because IL-2- induced GM-CSF release coincides with LAK lysis of IL-2-cultured monocytes, we treated monocytes with anti-GM-CSF and anti-IL-2R beta to determine whether GM-CSF release and LAK susceptibility were dependent or independent events. We found that both phenomena were inhibited by either antibody. Therefore, we conclude that IL-2-induced release of GM- CSF is mediated by IL-2R beta, which then acts to modulate the susceptibility of monocytes to lysis by LAK cells.