Interleukin-15 (IL-15) is crucial for the generation of multiple lymphocyte subsets (natural killer (NK), NK-T cells, and memory CD8 T cells), and transpresentation of IL-15 by monocytes and dendritic cells has been suggested to be the dominant activating process of these lymphocytes. We have previously shown that a natural soluble form of IL-15R alpha chain corresponding to the entire extracellular domain of IL-15R alpha behaves as a high affinity IL-15 antagonist. In sharp contrast with this finding, we demonstrate in this report that a recombinant, soluble sushi domain of IL-15R alpha, which bears most of the binding affinity for IL-15, behaves as a potent IL-15 agonist by enhancing its binding and biological effects (proliferation and protection from apoptosis) through the IL-15R beta/gamma heterodimer, whereas it does not affect IL-15 binding and function of the tripartite IL-15R alpha/beta/gamma membrane receptor. Our results suggest that, if naturally produced, such soluble sushi domains might be involved in the IL-15 transpresentation mechanism. Fusion proteins (RLI and ILR), in which IL-15 and IL-15R alpha-sushi are attached by a flexible linker, are even more potent than the combination of IL-15 plus sIL-15R alpha-sushi. After binding to IL-15R beta/gamma, RLI is internalized and induces a biological response very similar to the IL-15 high affinity response. Such hyper-IL-15 fusion proteins appear to constitute potent adjuvants for the expansion of lymphocyte subsets.