A recombinant amphotropic retrovirus was used to introduce the protein-coding region of the IL-2 receptor cDNA derived from HUT-102 cells into human CEM leukemic T-cells that lack these receptors. CEM T-cells that contained the virus expressed functional IL-2 receptors that transiently mediated five- to tenfold increases in [3H]thymidine incorporation following the addition of picomolar quantities of IL-2. Although IL-2 responsiveness was subsequently lost, it could be reinduced by cellular activation with the OKT11 monoclonal antibody. This phenotype also proved unstable with progressive time in culture. Despite the loss of IL-2 responsiveness, the infected CEM T-cells continued to express Tac antigen and displayed 50 to 200 high-affinity IL-2 receptors per cell that bound IL-2 with a dissociation constant of 4.3 pM. This affinity is fully equivalent to that detected on activated normal T-cells (2 to 50 pM). The apparent molecular size of the Tac antigen on these cells (55,000 to 60,000 daltons) was comparable to that on normal activated T-cells but 5000 daltons larger than the aberrant IL-2 receptors on HUT-102 cells. These data demonstrate that expression of a human IL-2 receptor cDNA in human T-cells results in high-affinity IL-2 receptor display that transiently imparts an IL-2 responsive state of growth. These results also raise the possibility that the T11 surface receptor may play an important regulatory role in high-affinity IL-2 receptor expression.