IL-12 is a 75 kDa heterodimer (IL12p70) comprised of independently regulated disulfide-linked 40 kDa (p40) and 35 kDa (p35) subunits. The p40 subunit exists extracellularly as a monomer (IL12p40) or dimer (IL12(p40)2) and can antagonize the action of IL12p70. Given the disagreement in the literature over the physiologic roles for IL12p70, IL12p40, and IL12(p40)2, we asked whether the bioactivity of IL-12 depended only on the concentration of the IL12p70 subunit alone or whether the relative concentrations of IL12p70, IL12p40, and IL12(p40)2 and their competitive binding with the IL-12 receptor are essential for determining IL-12 bioactivity under simulated human physiologic conditions. A mathematical model for IL-12 bioactivity was created by incorporating the production of IL12p70, IL12p40, and IL12(p40)2 by mature human DC and the interaction of these species with the IL-12 receptor. Using this model, we explored the effects of IFN-gamma, IL-4, and PGE2 concentrations on the bioactivity of IL-12. The simulations suggest that the concentration of IL12p70 alone is not indicative of IL-12 bioactivity; rather, the bioactivity of IL-12 produced by mature DC depends on IL12p70, IL12p40, and IL12(p40)2 production and their competitive interaction with the IL-12 receptor. In addition to the typically measured quantities of total p40 (IL12p40 + IL12(p40)2) and IL12p70, the ratio of IL12p40 to IL12(p40)2 is an equally important, yet underreported, determinant of IL-12 bioactivity.