IL-2 and IL-4 induce a synergistic proliferative response in HT-2 cells, suggesting that IL-2Rs and IL-4Rs may interact. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of IL-4 on the expression and function of IL-2Rs. Preincubation of HT-2 and BCL1-3B3 cells with IL-4 for 60 min at 4 degrees C or 37 degrees C resulted in a partial decrease in the number, but not the affinity of high affinity IL-2Rs as evidenced by Scatchard analysis of binding data. The decrease in the number of high affinity receptors correlated with decreased internalization of IL-2. After preincubation with IL-4, crosslinking of 125I-IL-2 to high affinity IL-2Rs also demonstrated a approximately 50% reduction in the number of high affinity IL-2Rs. Another lymphokine, IL-1, which acts on HT-2 cells, had no measurable effect on the affinity or number of IL-2Rs. Taken together, these results indicate that IL-4 downregulates the expression of high affinity IL-2Rs on some cells. It is not known whether this occurs by a direct ligand-mediated receptor interaction, by the sharing of a common receptor subunit, or by interaction of the two receptors with another membrane molecule or cytoskeletal component.