Interleukin-1 (IL-1) is a product of mononuclear phagocytes that mediates changes characteristic of the response to inflammation or tissue injury (the acute-phase response). One of two structurally and functionally homologous major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class III genes encodes a positive acute-phase protein, complement factor B. The closely linked complement C2 gene is not affected during the acute-phase response. Purified human IL-1, pH. 7.0, and recombinant-generated murine IL-1, pH 5.0, increased the expression of factor B and other positive acute-phase proteins in human hepatoma cells but decreased the expression of albumin, a negative acute-phase reactant. Furthermore, in a murine fibroblast L-cell line transfected with cosmid DNA bearing the human C2 and factor B genes, IL-1 mediated a reversible dose- and time-dependent increase in factor B expression in the transfected cells. Expression of the C2 gene was not affected by IL-1. The effect of IL-1 on factor B expression involves a mechanism acting at a pre-translational level as demonstrated by an increase in specific messenger RNA content and a corresponding increase in biosynthesis and secretion of factor B. The structural basis and mechanism for selective and independent regulation of these genes provides insight into the molecular control of the inflammatory response.