Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) were isolated from 22 human primary and metastatic liver tumors, and expanded in vitro in the presence of either interleukin-2 (IL-2, 100 U/ml) plus tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha, 1000 U/ml), IL-2 (1000 U/ml) plus IL-4 (1000 U/ml) or IL-2 (1000 U/ml) alone. TIL proliferated in culture in 20/22 cases. Among different cytoline combination, TNF alpha and IL-2 were most effective in promoting the outgrowth of CD3+CD8+T lymphocytes (mean +/- SEM: 90% +/- 5) in the cultures of TIL from primary liver tumors. Cytotoxicity against autologous tumor cells was demonstrated in all early cultures of TIL from primary liver cancers in the presence of IL-2 plus TNF alpha. In contrast, cultures of TIL derived from colon cancer metastatic to liver had significantly lower levels of autotumor cytotoxicity and proportions of CD3+CD8+ cells (40% +/- 13) than those of TIL from primary liver tumors. The addition on day 0 of interferons (alpha or gamma) to TIL cultured in the presence of TNF alpha and IL-2, significantly augmented cytotoxicity against autologous tumor. In contrast, incubation of TIL in the presence of IL-4 and IL-2 did not result in increased autotumor responses in the cultures of TIL from primary liver tumors. The expansion (-fold) of TIL (day 30) cultured in the presence of IL-2 alone compared to that in the presence of TNF alpha and IL-2 was significantly greater for hepatocellular carcinoma (median, 280 vs 260) than for autologous peripheral blood lymphocytes (36 vs 27), cholangiocarcinoma (42 vs 51) or TIL from metastatic colon cancer (39 vs 30). Outgrowth of TIL in IL-2 plus TNF alpha offers an opportunity for in vitro enrichment in cells with autotumor cytotoxicity in primary liver tumors. However, this cytokine combination was unable to promote and sustain growth of autotumor effectors from TIL in metastatic liver cancer.