We have purified human interleukin 1 (IL-1) to homogeneity by a simplified procedure that results in excellent yields of pure material that retains a high level of biological activity. IL-1, secreted by human peripheral blood macrophages that have been stimulated with Staphylococcus aureus, was purified by ion exchange chromatography and affinity chromatography on Procion Red agarose. The pure protein has a specific activity of 3.2 X 10(8) U/mg in the thymocyte mitogenesis assay, and is pyrogenic. No molecular weight heterogeneity was observed, in contrast to findings for mouse IL-1 and earlier reports of human IL-1. Purified IL-1, as analyzed by two-dimensional electrophoresis/electrofocusing gels, exhibited a series of charged species with isoelectric points ranging from 6.0 to 4.9, all with a molecular weight of approximately 17,500. Amino acid analysis indicated an abundance of acidic residues, in agreement with the low isoelectric points. There is little or no cysteine in the molecule. No evidence was found for the presence of carbohydrate moieties. The overall yield for this procedure was approximately 31% of the activity contained in the initial culture supernatant.