In human interleukin 4(IL-4), the carboxyl and amino termini of the 129 amino acid hormone are close to each other and this region is believed to be important for binding to the IL-4 receptor (IL-4r). We constructed plasmids encoding circularly permuted IL-4 mutants with the peptide Gly-Gly-Asn-Gly-Gly (GGNGG) joining the carboxyl to the amino terminus and with new amino and carboxyl termini elsewhere. Mutant IL-4(38-37) is composed of IL-4 residues 38-129 GGNGG and 1-37. Mutant IL-4(105-104) is composed of IL-4 residues 105-129, GGNGG and 1-104. IL-4(38-37) and IL-4(105-104) were purified from E. coli to near homogeneity and retained 50-100% of the binding and proliferative activity of IL-4, and in addition retained the ability to upregulate CD23 on Burkitt's lymphoma cells. Circular dichroism studies indicated that the tertiary structures of both IL-4(38-37) and IL-4(105-104) were retained, with the former molecule most similar to native IL-4. We conclude that while both native termini of IL-4 may be near its binding site, neither is required to be free for optimum activity.