To investigate its role in pulmonary infections, concentrations of interleukin-1 were measured in 22 bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) samples from 19 children with cystic fibrosis (CF), and in 13 disease controls by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for IL-1 beta and the D10.G4.1 proliferation assay for IL-1 activity. Significantly higher levels of IL-1 beta and IL-1 activity were found in BALF from patients with bacterial pulmonary infections than in those without such infection. There was no significant difference between the levels in patients with CF and pulmonary infections and those in children with bacterial infections complicating other diseases. High performance liquid chromatography showed that most of the IL-1 beta was associated with a molecular weight peak of 17 to 18 kD. Pulmonary inflammation reflected by the number of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) in the sample correlated significantly with the IL-1 concentration.