Interaction of interleukin 2 (IL2) with its high affinity membrane receptor complex (IL2R) is sufficient to induce proliferation of T lymphocytes. However, the biochemical mechanisms by which IL2 induces this process remain unresolved. The IL2R complex consists of at least two distinct polypeptides that bind IL2, a 75-kDa intermediate affinity subunit (IL2R beta) and a 55-kDa low affinity subunit (IL2R alpha). As indicated by Western blotting with anti-phosphotyrosine-specific antibodies and confirmed by phosphoamino acid analysis, we now demonstrate that interaction of the T cell growth factor interleukin 2 (IL2) with its high affinity receptor on IL2-sensitive human peripheral blood lymphoblasts induces tyrosine phosphorylation of proteins of 92, 80, 78, 70-75, and 57 kDa. IL2 induced tyrosine phosphorylation in YT 2C2 cells which express only the 75-kDa intermediate affinity IL2 binding molecule (IL2R beta) but not in cells which either express only the 55-kDa low affinity IL2 receptor molecule (IL2R alpha) or no IL2-binding sites. Therefore, IL2R beta, in the absence of IL2R alpha, appears sufficient to transduce the transmembrane signal leading to tyrosine phosphorylation. Two different antibodies reactive with phosphotyrosine specifically immunoprecipitated IL2R beta cross-linked to radiolabeled IL2. These findings suggest that IL2R beta is a substrate for the tyrosine kinase which is activated by IL2 binding to its receptor. Thus, like several other growth factor receptors, activation of the IL2R results in an increase in tyrosine phosphorylation with the receptor itself serving as one substrate.