125I-labeled recombinant human B cell stimulatory factor 1 (BSF-1) was used to characterize receptors specific for this lymphokine on in vitro cell lines representing human B, T, and hematopoietic lineages, as well as on adherent cell lines of epithelial and endothelial origin, and on primary human gingival fibroblasts. BSF-1 binding was extremely rapid and saturable at both 4 and 37 degrees C, with a slow dissociation rate. On all human cell types examined, BSF-1 bound to a single class of high-affinity receptor (less than 3,000 receptors per cell) with a Ka of 0.5-1.0 X 10(10)/M. Human BSF-1 also bound to cell lines of simian but not murine origin. Comparison of kinetic characteristics obtained with a yeast-derived hyperglycosylated form of BSF-1 (Mr 60,000) and N-glycanase-treated, sugar-free BSF-1 (Mr 15,000) showed no significant differences. Among a panel of lymphokines and growth hormones, only unlabeled human BSF-1 was able to compete for the binding of 125I-labeled human BSF-1. Affinity crosslinking experiments resulted in the identification on both Raji cells and on primary human gingival fibroblasts of a receptor subunit with an average Mr of 139,000. These studies show that the BSF-1 receptor on human cells has an extremely broad cellular distribution, while further supporting the notion that the ability of BSF-1 to mediate a spectrum of biological activities cannot be accounted for by overt differences in the receptor for this lymphokine on different cell lineages.