Interleukin-1 (IL-1) has been implicated as a regulatory protein in the development and clinical sequelae of atherosclerosis. To determine which cells in the atherosclerotic plaque synthesize IL-1 in situ, the authors evaluated histologic sections of iliac arteries from cynomolgus monkeys using probes for IL-1 alpha and beta. A polyclonal antibody to IL-1 alpha and beta was used to determine if proteins were concomitantly produced. The predominant cells expressing IL-1 alpha and beta mRNA were foam cells in the intima. Adherent leukocytes and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) expressed mRNA for IL-1 alpha. Microvascular endothelium expressed mRNA for both IL-1 alpha and beta. IL-1 proteins were located frequently in cells expressing IL-1 mRNA. These results indicate that endothelium and VSMCs, in conjunction with macrophages, serve as localized sources of IL-1 protein synthesis. These findings suggest that vascular cells may contribute directly to the pathogenesis of atherosclerotic vascular disease by actively secreting potent biologic mediators that modify vascular and immune cell function.