One of the oldest and most preserved of the homeostatic responses of the body to injury is the acute phase protein response associated with inflammation. The liver responds to hormone-like mediators by the increased synthesis of a series of plasma proteins called acute phase reactants. In these studies, we examined the relationship of hepatocyte-stimulating factor derived from peripheral blood monocytes to interferon beta 2 (IFN-beta 2), which has been cloned. Antibodies raised against fibroblast-derived IFN-beta having neutralizing activity against both IFN-beta 1 and -beta 2 inhibited the major hepatocyte-stimulating activity derived from monocytes. Fibroblast-derived mediator elicited the identical stimulated response in human HepG2 cells and primary rat hepatocytes as the monocyte cytokine. Finally, recombinant-derived human B-cell stimulatory factor type 2 (IFN-beta 2) from Escherichia coli induced the synthesis of all major acute phase proteins studied in human hepatoma HepG2 and primary rat hepatocyte cultures. These data demonstrate that monocyte-derived hepatocyte-stimulating factor and IFN-beta 2 share immunological and functional identity and that IFN-beta 2, also known as B-cell stimulatory factor and hybridoma plasmacytoma growth factor, has the hepatocyte as a major physiologic target and thereby is essential in controlling the hepatic acute phase response.