Tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) were cultured from 17 B-cell lymphoma specimens derived from patients with predominantly low-grade malignancies. Specimens included 15 lymph-node biopsies, 1 malignant pleural effusion, and PBL from 1 patient with circulating lymphoma cells. The phenotypic and proliferative characteristics of TIL cultured in interleukin-2 (IL-2) were studied, as well as cytolysis and cytokine secretion in response to autologous tumor. Flow cytometry of fresh tumor suspensions showed that 50% of cells (median) were malignant B cells and 36% were infiltrating T lymphocytes. After culture for approximately 1 month, TIL were 75% +/- 8% CD3+ (mean +/- SEM), 47% +/- 8% CD4+ and 35% +/- 7% CD8+. TIL proliferation was modest in most cases: the median maximum expansion was 32-fold in 25 days. Lysis of autologous tumor in 4-hour 51Cr release assays was mediated by 2 of 12 TIL studied, but was nonspecific. However, these same two TIL, when cocultured with various tumor stimulators, preferentially secreted tumor necrosis factor-alpha and granulocyte-macrophage colony- stimulating factor after autologous tumor stimulation; unstimulated TIL secreted undetectable or barely detectable levels of these cytokines. In one TIL culture, cytokines were secreted by purified CD4+ TIL but not by CD8+ cells, and secretion was completely abrogated by the anti- major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II antibody IVA12. Thus, although specific cytokine secretion by lymphoma TIL in response to autologous tumor was observed, it occurred in fewer than 20% of patients studied.