We are reporting here that low-mol wt B-cell growth factor (LMW-BCGF) and recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2) are together able to induce CD3+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) with lymphokine-activated killer cell (LAK) activity from the bone marrow (BM) cells of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Ficoll-Hypaque (FH)-separated BM cells were obtained from patients with active disease (at diagnosis N = 13, in relapse N = 15) and in complete remission (CR; N = 12). CD3+ cells were removed by Leu-4 antibody and immunobeads. Cells were cultured (10(5) cells/mL) in semisolid media with rIL-2 (100 mu/mL), LMW-BCGF (0.1 mu/mL), and the combination of rIL-2 plus LMW-BCGF, respectively, for seven to ten days. Pooled colonies were harvested for phenotyping. LMW-BCGF plus rIL-2 induced large numbers of CD3+ colonies from CD3- precursors. rIL-2 alone did not induce colony formation. In addition, cells were cultured in liquid media with LMW-BCGF, rIL-2, and the combination of LMW-BCGF plus rIL-2, respectively, for seven to 21 days. They were harvested for phenotyping, and cytotoxicity assays were performed v K562, Raji, and autologous leukemic cells. LMW-BCGF plus rIL-2 induced significant expansion of CD3+ cells from CD3- precursors, and these cells were activated to kill autologous leukemic cells in addition to Raji and K562 cell lines. LMW-BCGF or rIL-2 alone did not induce significant expansion or activation of cytotoxic CD3- cells. Our hypothesis is that LMW-BCGF plus rIL-2 stimulates the proliferation and activation of CD3- precursors from the BM cells of children with acute leukemia to become CD3+ cells that have LAK activity. This finding may have therapeutic implications.