The specific and non-specific nature of autotumor cytotoxicity induced in autologous mixed lymphocyte-tumor culture (AMLTC) and autologous mixed lymphocyte culture (AMLC) was studied in patients with carcinomatous pleural effusions. Small- and medium-sized blood lymphocytes that were isolated by centrifugation on discontinuous Percoll gradients did not lyse autologous, freshly isolated effusion tumor cells. In vitro activation of the small lymphocytes, but not of the medium lymphocytes, with autologous tumor cells generated cytotoxic potential restricted to autologous tumor. When stimulated with autologous non-malignant non-T cells, the medium lymphocytes, but not small lymphocytes, were triggered to cytotoxicity that acted not only on autologous tumor cells but also on allogenek tumor cells, T blasts, and tumor cell lines. Experiments using monoclonal antibodies (MAb) and complement (C) showed that both types of killer cells were CD2+CD3+CD16- T cells. Autotumor cytotoxicity developed in AMLTC was mediated by the CD4+CD8+ T cell subset in 6 of 9 cases and the CD4+ CD8- subset in the other 3 cases. In contrast, cytotoxicity induced in AMLC was exerted exclusively by the CD8+ subset. The enrichment of blasts from cultured T cells on discontinuous density gradients enhanced autotumor killing activity, with no reactivity recorded for blast depleted, resting T cells. Addition of mito-mycin-C-treated large granular lymphocytes (LGL) to AMLTC abolished the induction of autotumor killer cells, whereas non-specific killer cells were generated in AMLC irrespective of the pretence of LGL. These results indicate that stimulation of autoreactive T cells in AMLTC and in AMLC could induce 2 distinct types of autotumor killer cells.