We have determined the levels of mRNAs for IFN-beta, IFN-gamma and various alpha-IFNs (IFN-alpha 1, -alpha 2, -alpha 4, -alpha 5, -alpha 6, -alpha 7, -alpha 8 and -alpha 14) in normal and leukaemic human blood leucocytes and several cell lines induced in different fashions. The ratio of alpha to beta IFN transcripts varied greatly, depending on the cell type. The levels of the individual IFN-alpha RNAs were very different: IFN-alpha 1, -alpha 2 and -alpha 4 RNAs constituted the major fraction of the IFN-alpha transcripts measured, while IFN-alpha 6, -alpha 7, -alpha 8 and -alpha 14 were minor components in normal, induced leucocytes. Moreover, there was a striking difference in the proportion of individual IFN-alpha mRNA species in different cell types, in particular between normal and leukaemic cells; for example all cases of myeloblastic leukaemia examined showed a high expression of IFN-alpha 14. Use of different induction protocols did not significantly affect the proportion of IFN mRNAs. Analysis of the human IFN-alpha 1 gene by reversed genetics led to the identification of a segment of 5' flanking sequence between positions 117 and 68 upstream of the cap site which is required for inducibility by virus.