To define the structural features important for IL-8 binding to its two known receptors, mutants of IL-8 and melanoma growth-stimulating activity (MGSA) and chimerae consisting of segments of these two chemokines were constructed and purified from the pGEX 2T Escherichia coli expression vector. IL-8 alpha and beta receptors were expressed stably and individually in 293 kidney epithelial cells and HL60 human leukemia cells. The Kd for IL-8 itself and copy numbers for both receptors in transfected cells were comparable. Competition binding with 125I-labeled IL-8, however, showed large differences for several of the IL-8 mutants between alpha and beta receptors. The amino-terminal ELR sequence was important for IL-8 binding to the alpha receptor, but not sufficient for high affinity binding. Both rabbit IL-8 and MGSA share the ELR sequence with human IL-8, but compete poorly with it. The carboxyl terminus distal to amino acid 50 does not seem to mediate high affinity binding to the alpha receptor. A rabbit IL-8/human IL-8 chimera that differs in only eight amino acids from the human IL-8 sequence, was 150-fold lower in its affinity for the alpha receptor than human IL-8. In contrast, both the amino and carboxyl termini appear to be important for binding to the beta receptor. If the ELR sequence of IL-8 was substituted with alanines or if the carboxyl terminus distal to C50 was replaced with the MGSA sequence, a reduction occurred in binding competition. If both changes were introduced simultaneously, binding was abolished. Binding of MGSA was completely prevented by replacement of the ELR sequence with alanines. Ca2+ mobilization in HL60 cells transfected with the alpha or beta receptor was used to assess cell stimulation. The various mutant forms of IL-8 induced receptor activity with a pattern of sensitivity parallel to the competition binding affinities, indicating that both receptors are active.