More than 50% of patients with aggressive B lymphomas and the majority of patients with low grade lymphomas are not cured by current therapeutic strategies. The lymphomas express the B cell antigen CD20 on the cell surface and this antigen serves as target for antibody-directed therapies. Clinical studies with encouraging results have been underway with the use of a chimeric anti-CD20 antibody (IDEC-C2B8), consisting of human IgG1-6 constant regions and variable regions from the murine monoclonal anti-CD20 antibody IDEC-2B8. This study investigated the potential anti-tumor therapeutic value of combination treatment with anti-C2B8 and cytotoxic drugs. The in vitro study examined the sensitizing effect of C2B8 antibody on the DHL-4 B lymphoma line to various cytotoxic agents. Cytotoxicity was determined by the MTT assay. Surface and cytoplasmic proteins were determined by flow cytometry. Pretreatment of DHL-4 with C2B8 resulted in inhibition of cell proliferation and cell death and a fraction of the cells underwent apoptosis. While the DHL-4 tumor cells were relatively resistant to several cytotoxic drugs, pretreatment with C2B8 rendered the cells sensitive to TNF-alpha, ricin, diphtheria toxin (DTX), adriamycin and cisplatin but not to VP-16. Chemosensitization of DHL-4 tumor cells was not due to downmodulation of either the MDR-1 or bcl-2 gene products. However, treatment of DHL-4 with C2B8 inhibited TNF-alpha secretion. These findings demonstrate that C2B8 antibody potentiates the sensitivity of DHL-4 tumor cells to several cytotoxic agents. Further, the findings suggest that combination treatments with C2B8 antibody and drugs may be of clinical benefit in the treatment of patients with resistant aggressive B lymphomas.