Eighteen colorectal carcinoma patients without macroscopic disease after surgery were immunized using recombinant (r) human (h) carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) with (n=9) or without (n=9) the addition of soluble granulocyte/macrophage-colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). The dose of rhCEA per immunization was 100 microg (n=6), 316 microg (n=6) or 1000 microg (n=6). rhCEA was given s.c. on day 1 and 80 microg/day of GM-CSF s.c. on days 1-4. The schedule was repeated six times during a period of 9 months. All patients in the GM-CSF group developed a strong rhCEA-dose-dependent IgG antibody response while only one-third of the non-GM-CSF patients mounted a weak antibody response. All patients (9/9) in the GM-CSF group developed a strong rhCEA-specific proliferative T cell response as well as type I T cells (interferon gamma secretion). In 45% of the patients also a weak type II T cell response (interleukin-4 secretion) was evoked. Both MHC-class-I- and -II restricted rhCEA-specific T cells were noted. A specific cellular response (proliferation and/or cytokine secretion) against native hCEA could be found in 8/9 patients in the GM-CSF group, although at a significantly lower level than against rhCEA. In the non-GM-CSF group a weak rhCEA-specific T cell response was induced. Three patients had a proliferative response, 4 patients type I T cells and 6 patients type II T cells. No signs of autoimmune reactions were noted. Local pharmacological administration of GM-CSF seemed to be a prerequisite for the induction of a strong immunity against baculovirus-produced hCEA protein. However, the cellular response against native CEA was of a significantly lower magnitude.