The present study reports the surprising observation that IL-2-R+ cells can be detected in fresh, unstimulated, murine spleen T cells from unimmunized mice by flow cytometry using the monoclonal anti-receptor antibody 7D4. Also, unexpectedly, these cells were found exclusively in the L3T4+Lyt-2- population by two-color fluorescence, in contrast to receptor+ cells after stimulation, in which both L3T4+Lyt-2- and Lyt-2+L3T4- cells were found. The fraction of splenic T cells bearing IL-2-R reproducibly varies twofold under non-H-2-linked genetic control, with high expression in DBA/2 and BALB/c (approximately 6-7%) and low expression in B10.D2 and C57BL/6 (3%). This correlates quantitatively with a greater responsiveness of the DBA/2 and BALB/c splenic T cells to high doses of IL-2, compared with B10.D2 T cells; twice as many B10.D2 T cells as DBA/2 T cells were required to get the same response. Studies with 23 B X D RI strains revealed that the level of IL-2-R+ cells in unstimulated spleen cells was regulated by multiple genes, very likely including at least one gene on chromosome 7, near the HBB locus. The mapping makes novel use of nonparametric (Smirnov) statistics, which we suggest may be of general usefulness in similar analyses of RI strains.