Preclinical studies of recombinant human interleukin-3 (rhIL-3) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (rhGM-CSF) have shown enhancement of multilineage hematopoiesis when administered sequentially. This study was designed to evaluate the safety, tolerability, and biologic effects of sequential administration of rhIL- 3 and rhGM-CSF after marrow ablative cytotoxic therapy and autologous bone marrow transplantation (ABMT) for patients with malignant lymphoma. Thirty-seven patients (20 patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and 17 patients with Hodgkin's disease) received one of four different treatment regimens before ABMT. Patients were entered in one of four study groups to receive rhIL-3 (2.5 or 5.0 micrograms/kg/day) administered by subcutaneous injection for either 5 or 10 days starting 4 hours after the marrow infusion. Twenty-four hours after the last dose of rhIL-3, rhGM-CSF (250 micrograms/m2/d as a 2-hour intravenous infusion) administration was initiated. rhGM-CSF was administered daily until the absolute neutrophil count (ANC) was > or = 1,500/microL for 3 consecutive days or until day 27 posttransplant. The most frequent adverse events in the trial included nausea, fever, diarrhea, mucositis, vomiting, rash, edema, chills, abdominal pain, and tachycardia. Three patients were removed from the study because of chest, skeletal, and abdominal pain felt to be probably related to study drug. Four patients died during the study period because of complications unrelated to either rhIL-3 or rhGM-CSF. The median time to recovery of neutrophils (ANC > or = 500/microL) and platelets (platelet count > or = 20,000/microL) was 14 and 15 days, respectively. There were fewer days of platelet transfusions than seen in historical control groups using rhGM-CSF, rhG-CSF, or rhIL-3 alone. In addition, there were fewer days of red blood cell transfusions compared with historical controls using no cytokines or rhGM-CSF. These data indicate that the sequential administration of rhIL-3 and rhGM-CSF after ABMT is safe and generally well-tolerated and results in rapid recovery of multilineage hematopoiesis.