We previously showed the importance of the 3-deoxy-D-manno-2-octulosonic acid (KDO) residue in endotoxins (lipopolysaccharides, LPS) for the induction of the synthesis and release of interleukin-1 (IL-1) by human monocytes. We further investigated the effect of some structural variations within the KDO molecule on IL-1 production induced by LPS. Deamination of Bordetella pertussis LPS, followed by mild anhydrous acidic methanolysis released a hexasaccharide (fragment B'), which had a terminal methyl ketoside KDO residue with a methyl-esterified carboxyl group. This fragment was unable to induce IL-1 production by human monocytes. Fragment B' could be converted into an active hexasaccharide by de-esterification (fragment B-OMe), but not by reduction of the methyl ester group. The KDO residues in the LPS of some bacterial species have been shown to be phosphorylated and we observed that these LPS were weak IL-1 inducers. Phosphorylated KDO present in Vibrio cholerae and B. pertussis LPS respond poorly in the thiobarbiturate assay (specific for KDO). However, if these LPS were dephosphorylated with aqueous hydrofluoric acid (HF) their KDO response in this assay was increased 5.4- to 2.6-fold, respectively. In parallel, the HF-treated LPS were more potent IL-1 inducers than untreated endotoxins. These data confirm that the KDO residue(s) present in all endotoxins play(s) a major role in the signal(s) leading to IL-1 production by human monocytes, and show that IL-1 induction by LPS (1) requires a free carboxyl group in the KDO and (2) is correlated with the degree of substitution of the KDO.