Receptors for interleukin-4 (IL-4) are expressed at low levels on a wide variety of primary cells and cultured cell lines. Fluorescence-activated sorting of CTLL-2 cells resulted in the isolation of a subclone, CTLL 19.4, which expressed 10(6) IL-4 receptors per cell. These cells were used for the purification of IL-4 receptor protein and to prepare a hybrid-subtracted cDNA probe for isolation of cDNA clones. Three classes of IL-4 receptor cDNA were identified. The first encoded a 140 kd membrane bound IL-4 receptor containing extracellular, transmembrane, and cytoplasmic domains. The second class lacked the cytoplasmic region, and the third encoded a secreted form of the receptor. All cDNA clones expressed in COS-7 cells had IL-4 binding properties comparable to the native IL-4 receptor. The soluble form of the IL-4 receptor blocked the ability of IL-4 to induce CTLL cell proliferation and may represent a regulatory molecule specific for IL-4-dependent immune responses.