Incubation of resting lymphoid cells with recombinant interleukin 2 (IL-2) in vitro leads to the generation of lymphokine activated killer (LAK) cells capable of lysing fresh tumor cell suspensions in short-term chromium-release assays. Our previous studies (7) have demonstrated that the injection of LAK cells plus low doses of recombinant IL-2 were capable of inhibiting the growth of pulmonary metastases. We have now explored the ability of high doses of recombinant IL-2, administered systemically, to generate LAK cells in vivo, and to mediate antitumor effects directly. Administration of increasing doses of recombinant IL-2 intraperitoneally resulted in the generation of LAK cells in the spleens of recipient mice. Doses of 100,000 U recombinant IL-2 administered intraperitoneally approximately every 8 h for 5 d were capable of dramatically inhibiting established 3-d pulmonary metastases from the MCA-105 and MCA-106 syngeneic sarcomas and the syngeneic B16 melanoma in C57BL/6 mice. Grossly visible metastases present at 10 d after tumor injection also underwent regression following IL-2 therapy. Surprisingly, established 10 d pulmonary metastases were more susceptible to the effects of IL-2 than were the smaller 3 d pulmonary metastases. All antitumor effects of the systemic administration of recombinant IL-2 were eliminated if mice received prior treatment with 500 rad total body irradiation. The administration of high doses of recombinant IL-2 was also capable of inhibiting the growth of 3-d established subcutaneous tumors from the MCA-105 sarcoma, and of mediating the inhibition of growth and regression of established palpable subcutaneous MCA-105 sarcomas. Lymphocytes, which appeared morphologically to be activated, were present at the site of regressing tumor, and it appears that the mechanism of the antitumor effect of recombinant IL-2 administered systemically is via the generation of LAK cells in vivo, although this hypothesis remains to be proven. The ready availability of high doses of recombinant human IL-2, and the demonstration of antitumor effects seen in animal models have led us to the initiation of the clinical trials of recombinant IL-2 in humans.