At our laboratory we are currently evaluating the suitability of mouse/human chimeric monoclonal antibodies (cmAb) for use in radioimmunotherapy of patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). We have developed cmAb containing the human constant IgG1 domain and the variable domains of murine mAb (mmAb) E48 and U36 respectively. We considered the tumour-bearing nude mouse to be a well-validated model for a first testing of the targeting capabilities of these cmAb in comparison with the mmAb. Therefore, 3 microg cmAb E48 (labelled with (125)I) and 3 microg mmAb E48 (labelled with (131)I) were simultaneously injected into HNSCC-bearing nude mice and, at various assay times, mAb uptake in blood and other tissues was assessed. Remarkably, while in roughly 50% of the animals the biodistribution of the conjugates was similar, in the other animals cmAb E48 showed a much higher blood clearance than mmAb E48. This resulted in a lower tumour uptake of cmAb E48 in comparison with mmAb E48. To determine whether this phenomenon was related to mAb E48 or to the animal model, other cmAb-mmAb combinations were evaluated in the same way: cmAbs SF-25, 17-1A and U36 (all IgG1) were tested and all showed a rapid elimination in about 50% of the animals. Besides a decrease in blood concentration, an increase of cmAb levels in liver and spleen was observed within 24 h after injection. Isotype-specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays showed that mice that demonstrated a rapid elimination of cmAb from the blood had much lower endogenous IgGI, IgG2b and IgG3 titres than mice showing normal clearance. IgG2a levels were low in all mice. Biodistribution experiments with 3 microg chimeric 17-1A isoforms showed high blood clearance in a proportion of the mice for IgG1, IgG3 and IgG4, but not for IgG2. Increase of the cmAb dose to 100 microg resulted in a similar cmAb and mmAb biodistribution in all mice. Moreover, the biodistribution of the F(ab')2 fragment of an IgG1 cmAb was similar for all mice in contrast to that of coinjected whole IgG. On the basis of these results it can be hypothesized that, in mice with low endogenous IgG titres, cmAb with specific isotypes are rapidly removed from the blood (and ultimately from the body) by mediation of Fc-binding receptors. Apparently, in mice with high endogenous IgG titres or in mice receiving a high cmAb dose, these receptors are saturated. Furthermore, the rapid elimination of cmAb from nude mice, which may occur after injection at a low dose, is a phenomenon related to the nude mouse model.