Two tumor cell variants (PROb and REGb) isolated from a single chemically-induced rat colon adenocarcinoma were previously shown to differ in their tumorigenicity. When injected into syngeneic BDIX rats, PROb cells induce progressive tumors whereas REGb cells give rise to tumors which always regress. PROb and REGb variants also differ in their capacity to induce an immune response in the syngeneic host. Regression of REGb tumors could have been mediated by cytotoxic effector cells acting at the tumor site. To test this hypothesis, the cytolytic activity of non-adherent lymphoid cells isolated from PROb and REGb tumors and from the spleen of the same animals were compared. The same number of infiltrating lymphocytes was recovered per gram of PROb or REGb tumor. The cytolytic activity of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes, as that of spleen lymphocytes, was predominantly non specific, as demonstrated by their ability to kill YAC-1 cells, an NK-sensitive cell line. PROb cells were relatively resistant to the cytotoxic activity of spleen or tumor infiltrating lymphocytes. In the regressing REGb tumors, the cytotoxic activity of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes to homologous cells or to YAC-1 cells was low and significantly inferior to that of the corresponding spleen lymphocytes. These results suggest that the cytotoxic activity of lymphocytes was impaired at the local, intratumoral level, even in spontaneously regressing tumors.