Patients with non-Hodgkin's B-cell lymphoma who received an antitumor vaccine of idiotypic ig protein showed humoral and proliferative immune responses. Because immunity to some antigens, including tumor antigens and human pathogenic viruses, may be better correlated with the cytolytic cellular immune response, we evaluated 16 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients immunized with autologous idiotypic ig molecules for changes in tumor-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte precursor (CTLp) frequency using limiting dilution analysis. Eleven patients had a significant increase in tumor-specific CTLp. Eight of these 11 patients remain without evidence of disease or with stable minimal disease. In contrast, all five patients who did not have a significant change in tumor-specific CTLp have developed progressive disease. Patient vaccination with tumor associated protein antigens can increase tumor- specific CTLp frequencies. The correlation of increased tumor specific CTLp with freedom from progression is significant at P = .002. This study indicates that measurement of CTLp frequencies are relevant to the clinical evaluation of human tumor vaccines and suggests that cell- mediated cytolytic immune responses may be an important determinant of vaccine efficacy.