Résumé : Human interleukin-6 or B-cell stimulatory factor-2 is a cytokine involved in acute phase and immune response. Cloning of cDNA for human interleukin-6 in the pT7.7 expression plasmid under the control of a bacteriophage T7 RNA polymerase promoter system allows rapid production of the cytokine in Escherichia coli. Upon cell induction with isopropyl thiogalactopyranoside, recombinant human interleukin-6 is overexpressed and forms insoluble inclusion bodies. Solubilization of the protein with 6 M guanidine hydrochloride and refolding in the presence of a reduction/oxidation system results in a quantitative recovery of recombinant human interleukin-6. This material is already 70% pure and can be further purified to homogeneity with a single passage over a weak anionic-exchange column. Extended structural characterization of the purified protein by electrospray mass spectrometry, automated Edman degradation and peptide mapping by high-pressure liquid chromatography/fast-atom-bombardment mass spectrometry demonstrates that recombinant human interleukin-6 is identical to the natural protein both in amino acid sequence and S-S bridge content. However, it contains a minor component accounting for about 20% of the entire translated protein which exhibits a Met-Ala dipeptide extension at the N-terminus. Purified recombinant human interleukin-6 is biologically active because it is able to induce at least 70-fold the human C-reactive promoter transfected in human hepatoma Hep 3B cells and is stable for several months in 10% glycerol at 4 degrees C. The expression system described in the present work has the main advantage of producing a high yield of recombinant human interleukin-6 (about 25 mg/l) combined with a very simple purification scheme.