Sixteen patients with relapsed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma underwent autologous bone marrow transplantation and infusion of recombinant human granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (rhGM-CSF). Treatment consisted of involved-field radiotherapy, cyclophosphamide 60 mg/kg/d intravenously (IV) for 2 days, and fractionated total body irradiation (1,200 cGy). Autologous bone marrow was thawed and infused IV, followed 3 hours later by the first infusion of IV rhGM-CSF 11 micrograms/kg/d over 4 hours. Infusions of rhGM-CSF were continued daily until either both neutrophil count exceeded 1,500/microL and platelet count exceeded 50,000/microL, or until 30 days after marrow re- infusion. Toxicities encountered were mild and included fever, chills, hypertension, alopecia, rash, diarrhea, stomatitis, myalgias, and synovial (knee) effusions. Neutrophil recovery greater than 500/microL occurred a median of 14 days (range, 9 to 30 days) after marrow infusion, significantly earlier than in a comparable group of historic controls who recovered counts at a median time of 20 days (range, 12 to 51 days) (P = .00002). Median time to self-sustaining platelet counts greater than 20,000/microL was 23.5 days (range, 12 to 100 days), comparable with the historic group (P = .38). One bacteremia (central venous catheter exit site infection with Staphylococcus epidermidis) and one local infection (Giardia lamblia in stool) occurred. Patients received a median of 11.4 (range, 4.4 to 20.2) x 10(4) colony-forming unit granulocyte-macrophage (CFU-GM) progenitors per kg. Stem cell progenitors CFU-GM, CFU-granulocyte, erythroid, monocyte, megakaryocyte (CFU-GEMM), and burst-forming unit-erythroid (BFU-E) were detected in the bone marrow as early as 7 days after marrow re-infusion, and increased in proportion to peripheral blood counts, but by 30 to 60 days still remained much lower than before transplant. Neutrophils transiently decreased in 13 of 16 patients (median decrease, 42%) within 24 to 72 hours of discontinuing rhGM-CSF infusions. These data suggest that rhGM-CSF therapy enhances neutrophil recovery by forcing stem cells to produce mature elements at an enhanced rate but may not affect marrow stem cell and early progenitor population sizes.