Dendritic cell (DC)-based therapy has proved to be effective in patients with a variety of malignancies. However, an optimal immunization protocol using DCs and the best means for delivering antigens has not yet been described. In this study, 20 patients with malignant melanoma in stages III or IV were vaccinated with autologous DCs pulsed with a melanoma cell lysate, alone (n = 13) or in combination with low doses of subcutaneous (s.c.) interleukin (IL)-2 injections (n = 7), to assess toxicity, immunological and clinical responses. Monocyte-derived DCs were morphological, phenotypic and functionally characterized in vitro. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), harvested from patients either prior to and after the treatment, were analysed using enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISPOT). After vaccination, 50% of the patients tested (seven of 13) from the first group and (three of seven) from the second, showed an increase in interferon (IFN)-γ production in response to allogeneic melanoma cell lines but not to controls. Four of five tested human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-A2+ patients with anti-melanoma activity also showed specific T cell responses against peptides derived from melanoma-associated antigens. Delayed type IV hypersensitivity reaction (DTH) against melanoma cell lysate was observed in six of 13 patients from the group treated with DC vaccines only and four of seven from the group treated with the combination of DCs and IL-2. Significant correlations were found between DTH-positive responses against tumour lysate and both disease stability and post-vaccination survival on the stage IV patients. There were no toxicities associated with the vaccines or evidence of autoimmunity including vitiligo. Furthermore, no significant enhancement was observed as a result of combining DC vaccination with IL-2. Our data suggest that autologous DCs pulsed with tumour lysate may provide a standardized and widely applicable source of melanoma specific antigens for clinical use. It is safe and causes no significant side effects and has been demonstrated to be partially efficient at triggering effective anti-melanoma immunity.