In this study, we have evaluated the local versus systemic antitumor response in tumor-bearing mice subjected to a combined therapeutic regimen based on the injection of genetically modified Friend erythroleukemia cells (FLC) producing IFN-alpha and expressing the HSVtk (tk) gene, and we have investigated the host immune mechanisms involved in tumor rejection and development of antitumor immunity. Repeated subcutaneous (s.c.) injections of IFNtk-expressing tumor cells, followed by GCV administration, were effective in counteracting the growth of both contralateral parental tumors as well as visceral metastases, whereas similar treatments with control tk cells (i.e. nonproducing IFN) were ineffective. Morphologic analyses of the homolateral and contralateral tumor tissues and in vivo immunosuppression experiments with specific monoclonal antibodies revealed that both CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes played essential roles in the generation of a definite antitumor response after the combined therapeutic regimen. We have also compared the effectiveness of irradiated versus viable tumor vaccines co-expressing the two genes in the FLC model and in the poorly immunogenic metastasizing TS/A adenocarcinoma tumor system. Repeated injections of high doses of irradiated IFN-alpha-tk-expressing tumor cells followed by GCV administration resulted in the cure of the majority of mice bearing established metastatic tumors, while repeated inoculations of the same number of viable tumor vaccines were much less effective. We conclude that; (1) IFN-alpha is an essential cofactor in the generation of a systemic antitumor immunity following the prodrug-induced tumor cell killing; (2) vaccines co-expressing an autotoxic gene and a cytokine gene may represent promising new tools for the treatment of some cancer patients.