T cell-mediated immune response against autologous melanoma cells was analyzed, at population and clonal levels, in 31 patients with recurrent and/or metastatic disease. Fresh PBL and lymph node lymphocytes (LNL) from melanoma-involved nodes were not cytotoxic against the respective melanoma cells. When activated in in vitro coculture (IVC) against the autologous melanoma cells in the presence of IL-2, a majority of the activated PBL and LNL became cytotoxic against the autologous targets. The activated effector cells were cloned in limiting dilution microcultures, and growing clones were phenotypically defined and were functionally characterized for cytotoxicity and for potential regulatory function. Functional T cell clones were obtained from 15 of 31 cases. Of these, CTL responses exhibiting cytotoxicity restricted against the autologous melanoma were seen in four cases. All four CTL clones were CD3+, CD8+, and CD4-. Three of these four CTL clones were studied extensively. All three of these CTL clones expressed MHC class I-restricted cytotoxicity. mAb anti-CD3 blocked cytotoxicity in two and enhanced cytotoxicity in the other. Neither autologous sera nor autologous nonactivated fresh PBL modulated the cytotoxic functions of the CTL clones at the effector phase. T cell lines exhibiting regulatory function were obtained in 11 cases. The regulatory T cell lines were CD3+, CD4+, and CD8-. In three cases CD4+ clones amplified the cytotoxic response in the PBL in coculture, while in eight other cases the T cell lines downregulated the cytotoxic responses. Such T cell-mediated down-regulations were either restricted to the autologous system, induced by D/DR antigens expressed by the autologous or allogeneic melanoma cells, or induced by stimulus other than D/DR antigens. Taken together, these findings clearly demonstrate the existence of T cell-mediated cytotoxic and regulatory responses against human melanoma.