High-dose melphalan has induced remissions in about 40% of patients with refractory myeloma, but the mortality has been high, at about 20%, due to complications of prolonged granulocytopenia. In an attempt to stimulate earlier granulocyte recovery, recombinant human granulocyte- macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) was administered subcutaneously to 23 patients with refractory myeloma who had been treated with melphalan at a high dose of 100 mg/m2. Thirty-nine percent of patients achieved marked tumor cytoreduction by at least 75%, 2 died within 2 months from infectious complications during severe neutropenia; and median durations of relapse-free and overall survival were 7 and 10+ months, respectively. The nine patients presenting with both advanced age over 50 years and a long history of prior therapy of over 1 year required significantly longer median times of 31 days for granulocytes and of 63 days for platelets to reach safe levels of at least 500/microL and 50,000/microL, respectively, than the 14 remaining patients who had none or only one of these adverse features (21 and 26 days, respectively). In a historic control of 43 patients treated previously with high-dose melphalan but without GM-CSF, hematologic recovery to the aforementioned levels of granulocytes and platelets proceeded over almost 5 weeks, regardless of age and prior treatment exposure. Thus GM-CSF seems to hasten marrow recovery, especially in patients with adequate normal marrow stem-cell reserve as defined by younger age or less prior therapy. While not shortening the duration of neutropenia, GM-CSF dose increments (from 0.25 to 0.5 to 0.75 mg/m2) increased the incidence of severe toxicity from 0% to almost 40%, especially among older patients. These results support the usefulness of low-dose GM-CSF (0.25 mg/m2) in stimulating marrow recovery in selected patients with adequate marrow reserve treated with high-dose melphalan for refractory multiple myeloma.