IL-18 is a novel cytokine that induces interferon (IFN)-gamma secretion and plays an important role in antitumor immunity. In the present study, we constructed plasmid vectors encoding the murine mature IL-18 cDNA linked with the Igkappa leader sequence and the pro-IL-18 cDNA to estimate the efficacy of the mature IL- 18 vector and to evaluate IL-18--producing tumor cells as a tumor vaccine. Colon 26 cells were transfected with the abovementioned vectors or with vector alone (mock). Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis showed increased expression of murine IL-18 cDNA in both mature IL-18 and pro-IL-18 transfectants in comparison to that in mock transfected cells. The ability of the culture supernatants of mature IL-18 transfectants to induce IFN-gamma secretion was extremely high (40-140 pg/10(6) cells) in comparison to that of pro-IL-18 transfectants (4-18 pg/10(6) cells). When injected into syngeneic BALB/c mice, the growth of mature IL-18 transfectants, but not pro-IL-18 transfectants, was significantly less than that in mock transfected cells ( P< .01, by ANOVA and analysis of covariance). In addition, injection of colon 26 or Meth-A cells into mice immunized with a mature IL-18 transfectant revealed acquired immunity. Depletion of natural killer cells did not affect the growth of transfectants. However, the growth inhibitory effects were partially abrogated following treatment with anti-CD4+ and anti-CD8+ antibodies. These data suggest that the rejection of mature IL-18/colon 26 cells was mediated through T-cell activation. Gene therapy using mature IL-18 transfectants containing a plasmid vector and the Igkappa leader sequence may be a useful tumor vaccine.