Repeated injections of a fusion protein containing the superantigen staphylococcal enterotoxin A (SEA) combined with a Fab fragment of a tumor-specific antibody is a highly efficient immunotherapy for mice expressing lung melanoma micrometastasis. In the present study, the systemic and local immune responses generated by this therapy were analyzed at a cellular level. Two distinct but coupled immune reactions occurred after repeated therapy. Tumor necrosis factor and macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha and -1 beta were immediately synthesized, in the absence of T lymphocytes, at the local tumor site in the lung. This was followed by the induction of VCAM-1 adhesion molecule expression on pulmonary vascular endothelial cells. Concurrently, the early response in the spleen was characterized by the induction of selective T cells producing interleukin (IL)-2. The primed and expanded SEA-reactive V beta 3- and V beta 11-expressing T lymphocytes accumulated to the tumor area only after Fab-SEA therapy and were not present in the lung when SEA, Fab fragment, or recombinant IL-2 was injected. The tumor-infiltrating T cells produced large amounts of interferon-gamma, but no IL-2 or Th2 type of lymphokines were detected at the tumor site in the Fab-SEA-targeted antitumor immune response. These results emphasize the necessity to investigate several sites of antigen presentation to elucidate the effects of immunotherapy.