Interleukin-1 (IL-1) profoundly affects a number of functions of endothelial cells (EC). It was previously shown that EC express the type I 80-Kd IL-1 receptor (IL-1 RI). In this study we define the expression and functional significance of the type II IL-1R (IL-1 RII) in EC. Human umbilical vein EC did not express appreciable levels of IL- 1 RII mRNA as assessed by Northern analysis or reverse transcription and polymerase chain reaction. Exposure to various cytokines (including IL-4, which augments IL-1 RII in neutrophils) failed to induce IL-1 RII mRNA. The binding of radiolabeled IL-1 beta to EC was blocked by antitype I (M4) but not by antitype II (M22) monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs). MoAbs directed against the IL-1 RI (M1 and M4) inhibited the induction of IL-6 and adhesion molecules in EC by IL-1, whereas an anti- IL-1 RII (M22) was inactive. The human IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL- 1ra) preferentially interacts with IL-1 RI versus IL-1 RII in the mouse. IL-1 ra inhibited the response of mouse endothelial cells to IL- 1. We conclude that EC selectively express the IL-1 RI and that this is involved in the response of this cell type to IL-1.