We have generated a series of monoclonal antibodies (mAb) using recombinant interleukin (IL)-1 beta-converting enzyme (ICE) p20 and p10 subunits as immunogens. The mAb have been selected for further study based on their reactivity with ICE in transfected COS cells and their lack of cross-reactivity with TX, the closest ICE homolog known to date. Two anti-p20 and one anti-p10 mAb have been used to study ICE expression by Western blotting and immunodetection. In ICE-transfected COS cells, the mAb recognize the p45 ICE precursor and the maturation products (p20 or p10 subunits) for which they are specific. In monocytes and cell lines expressing ICE, only precursor forms are detected and intracellular immunostaining followed by confocal microscopy shows that they are located in the cytoplasm. Quantification experiments show that THP1 cells express approximately 67,000 molecules of ICE precursor per cell, with an estimated precursor to mature ratio of at least 100. In these cells as well as in monocytes, lipopolysaccharide stimulation did not change the pattern of ICE expression, although efficient secretion of mature IL-1 beta was measured. However, upon cell disruption, precursor maturation was observed. Our results, therefore, show that ICE is present in cells as a large pool of intracytoplasmic precursor, and that very limited amounts of mature ICE protein are present, but nevertheless sufficient to allow efficient IL-1 beta cleavage. Altogether, these observations suggest that post-translational maturation of the precursor protein could represent a specific step in the regulation of ICE enzymatic activity.