The potential of the CD3 monoclonal antibody (MoAb) OKT3 to selectively target lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells and T-cell clones in vitro against autologous tumor cells was studied using material from patients with acute leukemias (19 acute myeloid leukemias [AML], and 3 acute lymphoblastic leukemias [ALL]). Cytotoxicity mediated by patient LAK cells against AML blasts, but not against ALL cells and autologous Epstein-Barr virus-transformed B cells, was enhanced 1.5-fold to 9.3- fold by OKT3 in all AML patients studied. The following findings suggest that the major target molecule on AML cells for OKT3-coated LAK cells is the high-affinity Fc receptor for IgG (Fc gamma RI; CD64): (1) susceptibility to killing by OKT3-coated effector LAK cells segregated with target cell expression of CD64; (2) preincubation of AML blasts with monomeric OKT3 (murine IgG2a), the Fc portion of which is known to have preferential binding affinity to CD64, resulted in lysis by autologous T cells that were not spontaneously cytotoxic; (3) OKT3- dependent increase in lysis of primary and relapsed AML cells by autologous T-cell clones correlated with the amount of target cell expression of CD64; (4) anti-leukemic cytotoxicity of OKT3-coated T cells could partially be inhibited by monomeric human Ig, the natural ligand of CD64; and (5) expression of CD64 (Fc gamma RI) on fresh AML cells could be increased by interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and IFN-alpha translating into further enhancement of lysis by autologous OKT3-coated LAK cells. Nonmalignant CD34+ cells sorted from peripheral blood were found to lack expression of CD64 and hence were not affected by OKT3- triggered T-cell targeting, as detected by colony formation assays. In conclusion, the in vitro data presented provide a rationale for the combined clinical use of recombinant interleukin-2, IFN-gamma, and low doses of CD3 MoAb to eliminate AML cells while sparing nonmalignant hematopoietic progenitor cells, for example, in the setting of purging procedures for autologous bone marrow transplantation.