The cell surface protein CD14 binds bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in the presence of the serum protein, LPS-binding protein (LBP). This interaction is important for LPS-induced activation of mammalian myeloid cells. We performed quantitative studies of 3H-labeled LPS binding to human CD14 expressed on Chinese hamster ovary cells and on a human macrophage cell line (THP-1). At the concentrations studied (20-100 nM) LPS binding required the expression of CD14 and could be inhibited by a subset of anti-CD14 monoclonal antibodies. LBP was required for LPS binding to CD14. The binding occurred within 10 min and was relatively unaffected by temperature over the range of 4-37 degrees C. Quantitative binding assays were performed at 10 degrees C, or at 37 degrees C, using Chinese hamster ovary cells depleted of ATP. In both cases, 75-90% of the LPS could be released by treatment with phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C, suggesting that it remains associated with the glycosyl phosphatidylinositol-anchored CD14. The apparent dissociation constant of recombinant human CD14 expressed on Chinese hamster ovary cells for LPS at 10 degrees C was 2.74 (+/- 0.99) x 10(-8) M; the apparent dissociation constant of CD14 expressed on THP-1 cells at 10 degrees C was 4.89 (+/- 1.42) x 10(-8) M. In both cell lines, at saturating LPS concentrations, the molar ratio of LPS bound per surface CD14 was approximately 20:1. At 37 degrees C the apparent dissociation constant of recombinant human CD14 for LPS at 37 degrees C was 2.7 (+/- 1.2) x 10(-8) M, and the molar ratio of LPS bound per surface CD14 was approximately 8:1. Although the difference in molar ratio of LPS bound per surface CD14 at the two temperatures is difficult to interpret, it is clear that at both temperatures the molar ratio is not 1:1. The basis of this phenomenon is unclear, but may involve the repeated leucine-rich motifs, which are found within CD14.