Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from healthy donors and AML patients in remission were stimulated with phytohemagglutinin (PHA) and recombinant interleukin-2 (IL-2). These stimulated cells (lymphokine activated killer (LAK) cells) showed increased DNA synthesis as measured by /sup 3/H-Thymidine uptake. A synergistic effect of PHA and IL-2 was found. LAK cells' ability to kill acute myeloid leukemia (AML) blasts was investigated by the /sup 51/Cr release assay. LAK cells showed a cytotoxicity (over 10% specific /sup 51/Cr release) against 9/12 leukemic blasts, even at effector/target (E/T) ratios as low as 5:1. However, on average only 22.2% (SD 11.8) and 36.5% (SD 12.5) /sup 51/Cr release were obtained in 4- and 18-hour cytotoxicity assays, respectively, at an E/T ratio of 20:1. Leukemic blasts in 3/12 AML cases and normal PBMC were entirely resistant to lysis, even at an E/T ratio of 80:1. Susceptibility to lysis was not correlated to peanut-agglutinin receptor expression. LAK cells were more cytotoxic towards the K-562 cell line (natural killer activity) than unstimulated PBMC.