Tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) and tumours from six patients with squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (SCCHN) were investigated. The six tumours all expressed major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I antigens both in vivo and as tumor cell lines grown in vitro. In addition, the cancer cells either overexpressed the tumour-suppressor gene product p53 or harboured human papilloma virus 16/18 (HPV). The TIL were expanded in vitro in the presence of interleukin-2, immobilised anti-CD3 mAb and soluble anti-CD28 mAb. Expanded TIL cultures contained both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, but generally contained few CD56+CD3- cells of the natural killer (NK) phenotype. CD8+ T cells dominated the individual TIL cultures from five of the six patients and showed significant autologous tumour cell lysis. In TIL cultures derived from four of these tumour-reactive TIL cultures, killing could be partially blocked by an anti-MHC class I mAb. TIL cultures reacting with autologous tumour cells also showed strong TCR/CD3-redirected cytotoxicity when assayed against hybridoma cells expressing anti-TCR/CD3 mAb as well as natural-killer(NK)-like activity. A number of TIL cultures devoid of autologous tumour cell lysis were capable of lysing the natural-killer(NK)-sensitive K562 cell line suggesting that the SCCHN cells themselves are resistant to NK-like lysis. In conclusion, TIL cultures from head and neck carcinomas contain T cells which, upon expansion in vitro, can lyse autologous tumour cells in a MHC-class-I-restricted fashion. Thus, the results of the present study document that carcinomas of the head and neck in some patients are infiltrated by cytotoxic T cell precursors potentially capable of rejecting the autologous tumour.