Two receptors for the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin 1 (IL-1) have been cloned and characterized biochemically. While it has been well established that the type I (80-kDa) IL-1 receptor can mediate responses to IL-1, the function of the type II (60-kDa) IL-1 receptor has been unknown. In this manuscript we describe experiments designed to ask whether the type II receptor is capable of delivering a biological signal. We have examined two types of experimental situation: responses to IL-1 in cells which express predominantly the type II receptor, and responses to IL-1 which have been suggested previously in the literature to be mediated by type II receptors. In both situations we find that the responses instead are mediated via type I receptors. A blocking antibody against the type II receptor never inhibits, and in fact sometimes enhances, the responses. We conclude that a very small number of type I receptors is sufficient to mediate all of the actions of IL-1 which we have examined here and that the function of the type II receptor may not be to transduce signals.