Human interleukin-4 possesses two distinct sites for receptor activation. A signalling site, comprising residues near the C-terminus on helix D, determines the efficacy of interleukin-4 signal transduction without affecting the binding to the interleukin-4 receptor alpha subunit. A complete antagonist and a series of low-efficacy agonist variants of human interleukin-4 could be generated by introducing combinations of two or three negatively charged aspartic acid residues in this site at positions 121, 124, and 125. One of the double variants, designated [R121D,Y124D]interleukin-4, with replacements of both Arg121 and Tyr124 by aspartic acid residues was completely inactive in all analysed cellular responses. The loss of efficacy in [R121D,Y124D]interleukin-4 is estimated to be larger than 2000-fold. Variant [R121D,Y124D]interleukin-4 was also a perfect antagonist for inhibition of interleukin-13-dependent responses in B-cells and the TF-1 cell line with a Ki value of approximately 100 pM. In addition, inhibition of both interleukin-4-induced and interleukin-13-induced responses could be obtained by monoclonal antibody X2/45 raised against interleukin-4Rex, the extracellular domain of the interleukin-4 receptor alpha subunit. These results indicate that efficient interleukin-4 antagonists can be designed on the basis of a sequential two-step activation model. In addition, the experiments indicate the functional participation of the interleukin-4 receptor alpha subunit in the interleukin-13 receptor system.