To assess the role of the cytokine interleukin 2 (IL2) in the treatment of patients with multiple myeloma, we examined the sensitivity of plasma cell lines and malignant plasma cells from multiple myeloma (MM) patients to cell and cytokine-mediated killing induced by IL2. Unstimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBM) from normal donors produced little killing (mean lysis 1.0 +/- 1.0%, effector:target (ET) ratio 50:1), but cytotoxicity was modestly increased when PBM were incubated with IL2 prior to assay (8.0 +/- 2.9%). Unstimulated PBM from patients with MM also failed to kill autologous malignant plasma cells (mean 0.6 +/- 0.6%), but after exposure to IL2 they induced substantial lysis of autologous malignant cells (mean 55.3 +/- 22.1%). In addition, tumour necrosis factor (TNF) and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), two cytokines released from mononuclear cells in response to IL2, also reduced the survival and thymidine uptake of malignant plasma cells in culture. To determine whether these potentially beneficial immunomodulatory effects could be reproduced by in vivo administration of IL2, we have administered seven courses of IL2 to four patients with MM after autologous bone marrow transplant (ABMT). No serious adverse effects were noted. Increases in natural killer (NK) and lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) activity of PBM occurred during IL2 infusion, although cells capable of killing autologous MM cells did not circulate. However, IL2 infusions also induced substantial increases in the production of the cytokines TNF and IFN-gamma from peripheral blood lymphocytes. These results suggest that the in vivo administration of IL2 in MM deserves further evaluation, particularly for its potential to control minimal residual disease.