We have studied the control and significance of IL-1 production in human leukocyte cultures during accessory cell-dependent, T lymphocyte mitogenesis using sensitive bioassays and immunolabeling techniques. In primary antigen-dependent systems like the MLR, IL-1 production was not detected in accessory cells (monocytes, dendritic cells) or T cells, suggesting that it is not an early product in these responses. However, monocytes could be induced to make IL-1 after interacting with sensitized antigen-specific T cells. Both alloreactive T cell clones or freshly prepared lymphoblasts induced IL-1 provided the monocytes carried the HLA-DR antigens to which the T cells were initially sensitized. Even in these circumstances, dendritic cells and B cells failed to make IL-1. The mechanism whereby activated T cells induce IL-1 in monocytes was explored. Supernatants from cocultures of monocytes and T cells or several recombinant cytokines induced little or no IL-1. A more potent antigen independent pathway of IL-1 induction was identified. IL-1 could be induced in third-party HLA-DR nonspecific monocytes in cocultures of alloreactive T cell clones or blasts and HLA-DR-specific dendritic cells. The induction was factor independent since dendritic cells and T blasts placed in a chamber separate from third-party monocytes by a semipermeable membrane did not induce monocyte IL-1. These results suggest that a cell contact mechanism rather than an IL-1-inducing factor leads to IL-1 production. The role of IL-1 in T cell proliferation was tested with a polyclonal anti-IL-1 antibody. The antibody failed to block the proliferation of primary T cells, or alloreactive T cell clones and blasts stimulated with HLA-specific monocytes or dendritic cells, even though IL-1 in the medium was neutralized.