We have utilized a nonviral, polymeric interactive non-condensing (PINC) gene delivery system to deliver IL-12 to two different types of murine tumors, an immunogenic renal cell carcinoma, Renca, and a non-immunogenic colon cell carcinoma, CT26. The delivery of IL-12/polyvinyl pyrrolidone (PVP) complexes into Renca led to the expression of IL-12 (146 +/- 89 pg/mg) and IFN-gamma (160 +/- 82 pg/mg) from explanted tumors in culture supernatants. Treated tumors showed increased infiltration of NK, CD4+ and CD8+ T cells and up-regulation of MHC class I molecules on leukocytes in both tumors and lymph nodes. Fifty per cent of tumor-bearing mice rejected Renca or CT26 tumors following IL-12/PVP treatments given at optimal doses of 24 and 48 micrograms, respectively. While polymorphonuclear cells (PMNs) were partially involved in the development of the antitumor immune response elicited by IL-12/PVP treatment, CD8+ T cells were found to be the primary effectors. In contrast, CD4+ T cells did not appear to play a significant role in the development of tumor specific immunity. Finally, mice that rejected the tumors following IL-12/PVP treatment were protected against a second challenge with the same tumor. These data provide evidence that a nonviral IL-12 gene delivery system is well tolerated and generates a potent immune response against established tumors.