Malignant mesothelioma arises in serosal tissues, is locally invasive, and is usually resistant to chemotherapeutic agents used clinically. To determine whether resistance to cytotoxic drugs was an inherent characteristic of mesothelioma cells, we performed in vitro chemosensitivity testing on five fully characterised human malignant mesothelioma cell lines and, for comparison, on three lines representative of clinically drug-resistant solid-tissue carcinomas using the MTT (tetrazolium bromide) assay system. Mesothelioma cell lines were intrinsically resistant to eight common antineoplastic drugs, with concentrations that produced a 50% reduction in optical density (IC50 values) for all drugs being equivalent, if not higher, for mesothelioma cell lines as compared with lung and colon carcinoma cell lines. We then investigated the direct anti-mesothelioma activity of recombinant human cytokines with their antineoplastic properties. All five mesothelioma cell lines were resistant to tumour necrosis factor, but they displayed varying degrees of sensitivity to interferons (IFNs). IFN gamma directly inhibited the growth of two of five mesothelioma lines. IFN alpha displayed little activity against four of five mesothelioma lines. The mesothelioma cells that were sensitive to IFN alpha were resistant to IFN gamma, indicating that sensitivity to IFNs is not a genetic characteristic of malignant mesothelioma cells. Significant interactions between cytokines in combination were not observed.