Interleukin 1 alpha (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) are two monokines which play a prominent role in the response to inflammation and injury. We recently observed that TNF leads to an increase in the synthesis of the heavy chain of ferritin, suggesting that TNF may be involved in iron homeostasis (Torti et al. (1988) J. Biol. Chem. 263, 12638-12644). The experiments reported here demonstrate that in cultured human muscle cells, IL-1 induces ferritin H mRNA and protein as effectively as TNF. TNF and IL-1 were additive in their effects on ferritin H expression, and IL-1 induction of ferritin H was not blocked by anti-TNF antibodies. Ferritin H induction was a specific response not observed with beta or gamma interferon, nor with transforming growth factor beta. Both differentiated myotubes as well as myoblasts responded to IL-1 with the induction of ferritin H. These results suggest that monokine-mediated alterations in the subunit composition of the ferritin molecule may be of biological relevance in the response to inflammation and injury.