While it is known that mice with genetic immune defects are useful for establishing durable engraftment of human tumor xenografts, the relative role of components of host innate and adoptive immunity in engraftment has not been determined. We directly compared the ability of four strains of genetically immunodeficient mice (NOD/SCID, SCID, Nude and Rag-1-deficient) to successfully engraft and support the human cell lines Daudi, Raji, Namalwa and Molt-4 as subcutaneous tumors. We additionally examined the effect of further immunosuppression of the mice by whole body irradiation at a dose of 600 cGy for Nude and Rag-1 and 300 cGy for SCID mice and by administration of anti-natural killer (asialo-GM1) antibody on tumor growth. Mice with each of the defects supported xenografts to varying degrees. We found differences in growth characteristics in the cell lines tested, with Namalwa consistently producing the largest tumors. With all cell lines studied, optimal growth was achieved using NOD/SCID mice. Overall, tumor growth was somewhat enhanced by pretreatment with radiation with little additional benefit from the addition of anti-asialo-GM1 antibody. The importance of multiple components of the innate and adoptive immune system in xenotransplantation were best demonstrated when results in untreated NOD/SCID mice were compared to SCID, nude and RAG-1-deficient mice. The NOD/SCID mouse with or without additional immunosuppression provides the optimal model for the study of the biology and treatment of human leukemias and lymphomas.