Twenty-five CD4+ cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) clones were obtained from the peripheral blood or tumor tissues of melanoma patients undergoing active specific immunotherapy. Melanoma-reactive T cells were cloned by limiting dilution using either autologous or allogeneic melanoma cells to stimulate their proliferation. Sixteen of the clones reacted against autologous melanoma cells but not against the autologous lymphoblastoid cell line, which we defined as "melanoma-specific." Optimal demonstration of the lytic activity of CD4+ CTL required a 16-h incubation period and an effector:target cell ratio of 40:1. In addition, a 24-h pre-incubation of the target melanoma cells with 100 U interferon (IFN) gamma consistently augmented lysis by these CD4+ CTL, increasing it from a mean level of 20% to one of 52%. Lysis by 8 of the 11 melanoma-reactive CD4+ T cell clones was exclusively HLA-class-I-restricted, as judged by blocking with monoclonal antibodies (mAb). Five of these HLA class-I-restricted clones were reactive only with the autologous melanoma cells, while the other 3 clones were also reactive with allogeneic melanoma cells. In all cases, the T cells and melanoma targets shared at least one HLA class I allele, usually HLA-A2, HLA-C3 or HLA-B62. Interestingly, lysis by 2 of the 11 clones was inhibited by both anti-HLA-class-I or -HLA-class-II mAb, while lysis by 1 other clone was inhibited by neither. HLA class I molecules and several accessory molecules were maximally expressed by the melanoma target cells, both in terms of distribution and copy number before IFN gamma treatment. Thus, IFN gamma may have acted by increasing the expression of melanoma-associated epitopes as presented by HLA class I (or HLA class II) molecules. A proportion of human CD4+ CTL appeared to recognize melanoma-associated epitopes presented by the HLA class I molecule, although their lytic potency may be less than that of their CD8+ counterparts.