Natural killer (NK) cells and lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells have been involved in immunosurveillance against tumors. A normal NK activity was observed in peripheral blood (PB) mononuclear cells (MNC) from women with breast cancer, but a very low or absent NK cytotoxicity was found in the regional lymph node (RLN) MNC. However, strong cytotoxic activity against NK-resistant and NK-sensitive target cells can be induced in RLN MNC by long-term (5-day) incubation with recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2). This cytotoxic inducer effect of rIL-2, not observed with recombinant interferon gamma, was dose and time-dependent and was not associated with modifications in the low number of Leu 11+ or Leu 7+ cells present in the population. Both the lack of NK activity and the generation of rIL-2-activated killer cells can be readily demonstrated in either histologically affected or unaffected RLN. These results stress the value of the immunomodulators inducing cytotoxic activity in RLN MNC of patients with tumors, and are discussed in association with their possible therapeutical role.