Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) was used to detect interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) mRNA in candidate human hematopoietic stem cells. The cells, obtained from adult bone marrow (BM) or umbilical cord blood, had a CD34+ CD45RAlo CD71lo phenotype and were further fractionated into CD38+ and CD38- or Thy-1+ and Thy-1- subpopulations. The purity of these fractions was always more than 99%. IL-1 beta and CD34 mRNA were detected in pools of 30 BM-derived CD34+ CD45RAlo CD71lo cells. To further exclude any contribution by contaminating cells, individual cells were analyzed for CD34 and IL-1 beta mRNA. Positive results were obtained with 2 of 5 individual BM- derived CD34+ CD45RAlo CD71lo CD38+ cells isolated by micromanipulation after overnight culture in serum-free medium without any exogenous cytokines, and 1 of 10 individual CD34+ CD45RAlo CD71lo CD38- cells isolated immediately after sorting. Moreover, of 10 pools of three BM- derived CD34+ CD45RAlo CD71lo cells cultured overnight in the presence of a mixture of various cytokines (Steel factor, IL-3, IL-6, macrophage colony-stimulating factor [M-CSF], erythropoietin, and IL-3/granulocyte- macrophage colony-stimulating factor [GM-CSF] fusion protein), 5 were positive for IL-1 beta mRNA. This result was compatible with more than 20% (95% confidence limit 0.06–0.61) of the BM cells with the CD34+ CD45RAlo CD71lo phenotype expressing IL-1 beta mRNA. IL-1 beta expression was also consistently observed from day 0 to day 9 in liquid cultures of cord-blood-derived CD34+ CD45RAlo CD71lo Thy-1+ or Thy-1- cells. The cultures contained the same combination of cytokines and resulted in an expansion of cell numbers of up to 400-fold. GM-CSF mRNA was not detected in the equivalent of 75 cells at any day, even though it could be detected with high sensitivity in control stromal cells. Because IL-1 beta is a powerful and pleiotropic biomodulator of cytokines and adhesion molecules, our observations suggest that at least some primitive hematopoietic cells do not merely respond passively to signals from their environment, but may themselves regulate the paracrine production of cytokines from neighboring stromal cells.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).