Granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF)-based cancer cell vaccines have been shown to be potent inducers of antitumor immunity in several murine models, but the antitumor effects on established tumors have been minimal. Conversely, the major role of the heat shock protein gp96, localized in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), is to act as a molecular chaperone to assist the folding of nascent polypeptide chains in the ER. gp96 derived from tumor cells elicits specific protective immunity against parental tumors, presumably through the transport of tumor-specific peptides to antigen-presenting cells and the maturation of dendritic cells (DCs). However, the therapeutic effects of tumor-derived gp96 on established tumors have not been promising. The present study analyzes the therapeutic effects of GM-CSF gene-transduced Lewis lung cancer (LLC/GM) cells combined with LLC-derived gp96 on established wild-type LLC tumors in immunocompetent C57BL/6 mice. Therapy with either irradiated LLC/GM cells or LLC-derived gp96 barely affected established LLC tumor growth. The antitumor effect was significantly enhanced when 1 microg of LLC-derived gp96 was administered together with 1 x 10(6) irradiated LLC/GM cells (p < 0.05). The antitumor effects of irradiated LLC/GM cells and LLC-derived gp96 required mainly CD8(+) T cells. Spleen cells obtained from mice vaccinated with irradiated LLC/GM cells and LLC-derived gp96 showed specific CD8 cytotoxic activities against LLC cells (specific lysis rate of approximately 28%). This antibody response was not associated with a synergic effect of the combination therapy. Moreover, draining lymph nodes from mice immunized with irradiated LLC/GM cells and LLC-derived gp96 contained more migrating mature CD11c(+) cells (higher levels of CD86 and major histocompatibility complex [MHC] class II molecules) compared with those from any other immunization protocols. These results suggest that the combination of irradiated LLC/GM cells and tumor-derived gp96 has potential as a new immunogene therapeutic strategy against lung cancer.