The role of interleukin 2 (IL 2) as a possible regulator of in vitro proliferation and differentiation of non-T acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells was investigated. For this purpose, leukemic cells from the blood or bone marrow of eight untreated patients with common or pre-B ALL were analyzed using the anti-Tac monoclonal antibody (reactive with the IL 2 receptor) in indirect immunofluorescence. The receptors for IL 2, which were initially absent from the cell surface, were induced on high percentages of the ALL cells after the in vitro exposure to the lectin phytohemagglutinin or the phorbol ester 12-O- tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate in six patients, suggesting that the cells had become sensitive to IL 2. In colony cultures to which feeder leukocytes and IL 2 had been added, colony growth was obtained in five of eight cases. Whereas the cells from one patient formed colonies in the absence of exogenous stimuli, the cells from others were dependent on the addition of feeder leukocytes plus IL 2. In the latter cases, feeder leukocytes alone, releasing some IL 2, stimulated growth suboptimally at different cell concentrations. Their stimulative effect was significantly enhanced when leukocyte-derived IL 2 or pure recombinant IL 2 was supplemented. Alone, IL 2 (up to 500 U/mL) did not support colony formation. Apparently, IL 2 and feeder leukocytes are both required for the induction of colonies in these cases of ALL. From cell sorting of fluorescent anti-common ALL antigen (CALLA) stained cells it appeared that colonies descended from cells with high as well as low or negative CALLA expression. Immunophenotyping demonstrated the presence of the original leukemia markers on colony cells, but was not indicative of maturation of ALL toward more differentiated B cells. We suggest that IL 2 can stimulate the in vitro proliferation of certain neoplastic B lymphocyte progenitors.