The transfusion of allogenic, in vitro expanded natural killer cells (NKC) is a novel therapy option in oncology. To date, however, the biodistribution and kinetics of allogenic NKC have not been investigated. Therefore, in this study three patients with renal cell carcinoma received 3-7 x 10(8) NKC labelled with indium-111 oxine with a tenfold excess of unlabelled cells during NKC therapy. Whole-body scintigrams were obtained (0.5-144 h) in the anterior and posterior views. Scintigrams were analysed using a region of interest technique, and single-photon emission tomography (SPET) studies of the abdomen were performed. Results were compared to those obtained with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of the peripheral blood (determination of foreign DNA, nested PCR, limit of detection 0.01%). Shortly after transfusion of NKC, more than 50% of the activity was accumulated in the lungs. We observed redistribution effects from lungs to liver, spleen and bone marrow. No significant loss of activity could be detected. In two of four large metastases, tracer accumulation could be proven by SPET. As confirmed by scintigrams and PCR, the fraction of circulating transfused cells was low at all times. Long-term activity retention might be caused either by survival of the allogenic cells, as confirmed by PCR (up to 3 days p.i.), or by phagocytosis of labelled cellular fragments. However, PCR data and uptake in metastases indicated long survival of a portion of allogenic NKC. Such long survival and low retention of the cells in the lung are requirements for an effective immunotherapeutic approach.