We assayed helper T-lymphocyte precursor frequencies (HTLPf), interferon (IFN)-gamma-producing cell frequencies (IFN-gammaPf) and CTL precursor frequencies (CTLPf) to see if they could predict the severity of acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD) and disease relapse after transplantation. In all, 48 bone marrow transplantation (BMT) patients and their HLA-identical sibling (n=29) or matched unrelated donors (MUD) (n=19) were recruited. HTLPf, IFN-gammaPf and CTLPf were measured using a limiting dilution assay (LDA). Patients were followed prospectively to assess the severity of aGVHD and the status of the primary disease after BMT. High (>5 x 10(-6)) HTLPf, CTLPf and IFN-gammaPf were significantly associated with the occurrence and severity of aGVHD in patients who received transplants from HLA-identical sibling. Among patients receiving BMT from MUD, HTLPf and CTLPf, but not IFN-gammaPf, were associated with aGVHD. Five patients had disease relapse post-BMT and the risk was not significantly associated with HTLPf, CTLPf or IFN-gammaPf. Patients with high (>5 x 10(-6)) HTLPf, IFN-gammaPf or CTLPf before BMT are at higher risk of developing aGVHD after transplantation from both matched sibling donors and MUD. Whether these parameters can predict disease relapse would have to be investigated with a larger cohort of patients.