It has recently been demonstrated that in vivo administration of murine interleukin 12 (IL-12) to mice results in augmentation of cytotoxic natural killer (NK)/lymphocyte-activated killer cell activity, enhancement of cytolytic T cell generation, and induction of interferon gamma secretion. In this study, the in vivo activity of murine IL-12 against a number of murine tumors has been evaluated. Experimental pulmonary metastases or subcutaneous growth of the B16F10 melanoma were markedly reduced in mice treated intraperitoneally with IL-12, resulting in an increase in survival time. The therapeutic effectiveness of IL-12 was dose dependent and treatment of subcutaneous tumors could be initiated up to 14 d after injection of tumor cells. Likewise, established experimental hepatic metastases and established subcutaneous M5076 reticulum cell sarcoma and Renca renal cell adenocarcinoma tumors were effectively treated by IL-12 at doses which resulted in no gross toxicity. Local peritumoral injection of IL-12 into established subcutaneous Renca tumors resulted in regression and complete disappearance of these tumors. IL-12 was as effective in NK cell-deficient beige mice or in mice depleted of NK cell activity by treatment with antiasialo GM1, suggesting that NK cells are not the primary cell type mediating the antitumor effects of this cytokine. However, the efficacy of IL-12 was greatly reduced in nude mice suggesting the involvement of T cells. Furthermore, depletion of CD8+ but not CD4+ T cells significantly reduced the efficacy of IL-12. These results demonstrate that IL-12 has potent in vivo antitumor and antimetastatic effects against murine tumors and demonstrate as well the critical role of CD8+ T cells in mediating the antitumor effects against subcutaneous tumors.