Donor lymphocyte infusions can reinduce complete remission in the majority of patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) who relapse into chronic phase after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (BMT). Such infusions are associated with a high incidence of graft- versus-host disease (GVHD) and marrow aplasia. BMT using selective depletion of CD8+ lymphocytes from donor cells reduces the incidence of GVHD without an increase in leukemia relapse. We hypothesized that infusion of CD8-depleted donor peripheral blood lymphocytes could also reinduce complete remissions with a lesser potential to produce symptomatic GVHD in patients with CML who relapsed after allogeneic BMT. Ten patients with Ph(+) CML who relapsed a median of 353 days after BMT (range, 82 to 1,096 days) received donor lymphocyte infusions depleted of CD8+ cells. Nine patients received a single infusion and 1 received two infusions. Four patients were treated while in chronic phase with clonal evolution, 2 during accelerated phase, 3 during blast crisis, and 1 in a cytogenetic relapse. A mean of 0.9 +/- 0.3 x 10(8) mononuclear cells/kg were infused, containing 0.6 +/- 0.4 x 10(6) CD3+CD8+ cells/kg. Six patients achieved hematologic and cytogenetic remission at 4, 8, 11, 15, 39, and 54 weeks after lymphocyte infusion. Two patients developed > or = grade II acute GVHD, and 1 patient developed mild chronic GVHD. We conclude that donor lymphocyte infusions depleted of CD8+ cells can induce remissions with a low rate of severe acute GVHD in patients with CML who relapse after allogeneic BMT, supporting the hypothesis that CD8+ lymphocytes are important effectors of GVHD, but may not be essential for the graft-versus- leukemia effect against this disease. Further controlled studies are required to confirm these preliminary observations.