Antigen presentation by host dendritic cells (DC) is critical for the initiation of adaptive immune responses. We have previously demonstrated in immunogenic murine tumor models that bone marrow (BM)- derived DC pulsed ex vivo with synthetic tumor-associated peptides, naturally expressed by tumor cells, serve as effective antitumor vaccines, protecting animals against an otherwise lethal tumor challenge (Mayordomo, J.I., T. Zorina, W.J. Storkus, C. Celluzzi, L.D. Falo, C.J. Melief, T. Ildstad, W.M. Kast, A.B. DeLeo, and M.T. Lotze. 1995. Nature Med. 1:1297-1302). However, T cell-defined epitopes have not been identified for most human cancers. To explore the utility of this approach in the treatment of tumors expressing as yet uncharacterized epitopes, syngeneic granulocyte/macrophage colony- stimulating factor-stimulated and BM-derived DC, pulsed with unfractionated acid-eluted tumor peptides (Storkus, W.J., H.J. Zeh III, R.D. Salter, and M.T. Lotze. 1993. J. Immunother. 14:94-103) were used to treat mice bearing spontaneous, established tumors. The adoptive transfer of 5 x 10(5) tumor peptide-pulsed DC dramatically suppressed the growth of weakly immunogenic tumors in day 4 to day 8 established MCA205 (H-2b) and TS/A (H-2d) tumor models, when applied in three biweekly intravenous injections. Using the immunogenic C3 (H-2b) tumor model in B6 mice, tumor peptide-pulsed DC therapy resulted in the erradication of established d14 tumors and long-term survival in 100% of treated animals. The DC-driven antitumor immune response was primarily cell mediated since the transfer of spleen cells, but not sera, from immunized mice efficiently protected sublethally irradiated naive mice against a subsequent tumor challenge. Furthermore, depletion of either CD4+ or CD8+ T cells from tumor-bearing mice before therapy totally suppressed the therapeutic efficacy of DC pulsed with tumor- derived peptides. Costimulation of the host cell-mediated antitumor immunity was critical since inoculation of the chimeric fusion protein CTLA4-Ig virtually abrogated the therapeutic effects of peptide-pulsed DC in vivo. The analysis of the cytokine pattern in the draining lymph nodes and spleens of tumor-bearing mice immunized with DC pulsed with tumor-eluted peptides revealed a marked upregulation of interleukin (IL) 4 and interferon (IFN) gamma production, as compared with mice immunized with DC alone or DC pulsed with irrelevant peptides. DC- induced antitumor effects were completely blocked by coadministration of neutralizing monoclonal antibody directed against T helper cell 1- associated cytokines (such as IL-12, tumor necrosis factor alpha, IFN- gamma), and eventually, but not initially, blocked by anti-mIL-4 mAb. Based on these results, we believe that DC pulsed with acid-eluted peptides derived from autologous tumors represents a novel approach to the treatment of established, weakly immunogenic tumors, and serves as a basis for designing clinical trials in cancer patients.