Native human IL-1 beta and IL-1 alpha stimulated prostaglandin E2 secretion by human embryonic lung fibroblasts at half-maximal concentrations of 3 +/- 1.2 pM (+/- SEM) and 10 +/- 2.3 pM, respectively. In contrast to the 20-50-fold lower affinities previously found for IL-1-R on 3T3 cells as well as murine and human lymphoblastoid lines, monoiodo 125I-IL-1 beta bound to normal human fibroblasts with a Kd of 8.4 +/- 4.1 pM in direct binding experiments, and with a Ki of 11.2 +/- 2.8 pM in competitive binding experiments. IL-1 alpha bound to the receptor identified by 125I-IL-1 beta with a Ki of 50 +/- 18 pM. The receptor exhibited homogeneous affinity for IL-1 beta or IL-1 alpha. The receptor did not recognize IL-2, IFN-gamma, tumor necrosis factor alpha, a functionally related monokine, or bovine acidic fibroblast growth factor, a structurally related mediator. Comparison of the biological response curves and binding curves obtained for IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta showed that they were parallel and that 10-15% occupancy of the estimated 3,000 sites by either species of IL-1 was sufficient to give half-maximal stimulation of prostaglandin E2 secretion. Thus, the amount of apparent signal amplification observed on fibroblasts was considerably lower than the 100-100,000 fold amplification previously reported for lymphoid lines. Crosslinking experiments revealed a major band with a corrected molecular mass of approximately 80 kD and a minor band of approximately 200 kD. Labeling of these bands was blocked by IL-1 beta and IL-1 alpha but not by IL-2, IFN-gamma, or tumor necrosis factor alpha. These results demonstrate that normal human embryonic lung fibroblasts bear IL-1-R of sufficiently high affinity to mediate their biological responsiveness to low picomolar concentrations of IL-1 beta and IL-1 alpha and are consistent with the existence of a single receptor mediating the biological properties of both human IL-1 species.