A number of cytokines and growth factors use the JAK-STAT pathway to signal from the cell membrane to the nucleus. While homodimerizing cytokine receptors may transmit signal via a single form of JAK (i.e. growth hormone receptors), several multicomponent cytokine receptors have been shown to require simultaneous activation of pairs of different JAK kinases (i.e. interferon receptors). Recent evidence for a preferential coupling of JAK3 to interleukin-2 receptor-gamma (IL-2R gamma) and JAK1 to IL-2R beta supports the concept of heterotrans-activation of JAK1 and JAK3 caused by IL-2-induced heterodimerization of their receptor partners. The present study verified the ability of IL-2 to cause tyrosine phosphorylation and activation of JAK1 and JAK3, but demonstrated that IL-2 stimulated JAK3 to a significantly larger extent than JAK1 in human T lymphocytes and the YT cell line. This conclusion was based upon several independent criteria, including more vigorous tyrosine phosphorylation of JAK3, more marked enzymatic activation of JAK3 as well as higher abundance of JAK3 in activated IL-2 receptor complexes. Furthermore, when human IL-2R beta was stably expressed in murine BA/F3 cells, robust IL-2-induced proliferation and JAK3 activation occurred without detectable involvement of either JAK1, JAK2 or TYK2. We therefore propose that IL-2 receptor signal transduction does not depend on equimolar heterodimerization of JAK1 and JAK3 following IL-2-induced heterodimerization of IL-2R beta and IL-2R gamma. Nonetheless, a membrane-proximal region of human IL-2R beta (Asn240-Leu335) was critical for JAK3 activation, and the amount of JAK3 present in activated IL-2 receptor complexes increased with time, suggesting that stabilization of JAK3 binding to the receptor complex relies on both IL-2R beta and IL-2R gamma. Moreover, STAT5 was found to be the predominant STAT transcription factor used by IL-2 in human T cells, and specifically required a COOH-terminal region of IL-2R beta (Ser386-Val525), while STAT5 recruitment was not correlated to activation of IL-2R gamma or JAK3.