The feasibility of in vitro interleukin 2 (IL-2) activation and expansion of mononuclear cells (MNCs) derived from adult patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (ANLL) was studied. Patients' natural killer (NK) and lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cell activity was compared with that of normal donors in terms of: (a) cytolytic activity (four- hour 51Cr release assay) against an NK-sensitive target (K562), NK- resistant targets (Raji/Daudi), and fresh/cryopreserved autologous and allogeneic leukemic blasts; (b) proliferation and expansion in culture with 1,000 U/mL recombinant IL 2 (rIL 2); and (c) the cell surface phenotype of the cultured cells. In 21 of 24 patients with active disease (AP) MNCs derived from the peripheral blood (PBL) or bone marrow (BM) could be cultured and expanded in the presence of rIL 2. These cultures initially contained between 30% and 50% blasts, and during 2 to 4 weeks of culture destruction of blasts and enrichment of up to 60% in cells with the morphology of large granular lymphocytes (LGLs) was observed. Expansion in culture varied between two- and 100- fold. MNCs from all patients in remission (RP) could be activated by rIL 2 and expanded up to 30-fold after 1 to 3 weeks in culture. NK activity of fresh PBLs from AP was significantly lower than in normal controls, whereas NK activity of RP was within the normal range. High levels of postactivation NK and LAK activity on K562/Raji/Daudi and on fresh/cryopreserved leukemic blasts was generated in approximately 50% of cases of AP and in most RP. Cell surface phenotype studies showed that cultured cells derived from ANLL patients were significantly enriched (up to 40%) in NKH-1 (Leu 19) positive cells, with RP LAK cells also expressing a high proportion of CD16 positive cells (up to 40%). This study has shown that it is feasible to activate and significantly expand killer cells derived from active disease and remission ANLL patients during 1 to 3 weeks culture with IL 2 with good maintenance of cytolytic activity. Both initial NK activity and LAK generation was optimal in remission patients. Based on data from this study, a clinical protocol has been developed for treatment of early relapse ANLL patients with LAK cells cultured for 1 to 3 weeks and systemic IL 2.

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