IL-2 immunotherapy is an attractive treatment option for certain metastatic cancers. However, administration of IL-2 to patients can lead, by ill-defined mechanisms, to toxic adverse effects including severe pulmonary edema. Here, we show that IL-2-induced pulmonary edema is caused by direct interaction of IL-2 with functional IL-2 receptors (IL-2R) on lung endothelial cells in vivo. Treatment of mice with high-dose IL-2 led to efficient expansion of effector immune cells expressing high levels of IL-2Rbetagamma, including CD8(+) T cells and natural killer cells, which resulted in a considerable antitumor response against s.c. and pulmonary B16 melanoma nodules. However, high-dose IL-2 treatment also affected immune cell lineage marker-negative CD31(+) pulmonary endothelial cells via binding to functional alphabetagamma IL-2Rs, expressed at low to intermediate levels on these cells, thus causing pulmonary edema. Notably, IL-2-mediated pulmonary edema was abrogated by a blocking antibody to IL-2Ralpha (CD25), genetic disruption of CD25, or the use of IL-2Rbetagamma-directed IL-2/anti-IL-2 antibody complexes, thereby interfering with IL-2 binding to IL-2Ralphabetagamma(+) pulmonary endothelial cells. Moreover, IL-2/anti-IL-2 antibody complexes led to vigorous activation of IL-2Rbetagamma(+) effector immune cells, which generated a dramatic antitumor response. Thus, IL-2/anti-IL-2 antibody complexes might improve current strategies of IL-2-based tumor immunotherapy.