We studied interleukin 1 (IL-1) and interleukin 2 (IL-2) production in unstimulated and stimulated cultures from 27 young diabetic patients and 21 age-matched healthy subjects. In unstimulated cultures monocytes from newly diagnosed patients produced significantly higher levels of IL-1 than controls. In lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated cultures, IL-1 production in patients with fresh and long-standing diabetes was no different from that of controls. IL-2 production was low or absent in unstimulated cultures from insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) patients and controls. In phytohaemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated cultures both patient groups produced significantly less IL-2 than controls. No correlation was observed between IL-1, IL-2 production and HbA1 levels or the presence of HLA-DR3 or DR4. Our data on "spontaneous" IL-1 production support the hypothesis that monocytes from some newly diagnosed IDDM patients may circulate in a "preactivated" state. The low levels of IL-2 might be explained by an abnormal consumption or by the presence of increased soluble IL-2 receptor levels or by a serum factor which interferes with IL-2 production. Alternatively, it may be a genetically determined trait.