The alpha-chain of the interleukin 2 receptor (IL-2R alpha) is expressed on monocytes and macrophages after activation by bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). In the present study, we investigated whether the expression of IL-2R alpha is associated with the process of differentiation of myeloid cells to mature macrophages and how this expression is regulated. The murine myeloid M1 cell line, which can be induced by leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) or interleukin 6 (IL-6) to differentiate from blast cells to mature macrophages, was used as a model system for myeloid differentiation. Bone marrow (BM)-derived macrophages were used as mature myeloid cells. Cytofluorometry revealed that IL-2R alpha is transiently expressed during M1 cell differentiation, with peak levels 24 h after induction by LIF or IL-6, whereas the high affinity receptor for monomeric IgG2a (FcR), a surface marker typical for macrophage differentiation, continues to rise up to 72 h. BM-derived macrophages already express FcR but not IL-2R alpha. IL-2R alpha expression is induced on these cells after treatment by IL-6 for up to 48 h. Treatment of IL-6-induced M1 cells with indomethacin permitted a sustained expression of IL-2R alpha beyond 24 h, and this effect was reversed by the addition of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). Northern analysis showed that in M1 cells the expression of mRNA for IL-2R alpha, but not for IL-2R beta, is also transient, indicating that cell surface expression of IL-2R alpha is regulated at the mRNA level. These data show that inducers of macrophage differentiation such as LIF and IL-6 can induce a transient expression of the IL-2R alpha-chain in differentiating murine myeloid M1 cells and that autocrine production of PGE2 is involved in the control of the transient expression of this receptor. However, induction of expression of IL-2R alpha by IL-6 appears to be independent of differentiation because it can be induced on fully differentiated BM-derived macrophages as well.