To clarify the components of cellular immunity responsible for defense against the clonal development of myeloma cells, we tested the capacity of human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) to inhibit the growth of 3 human myeloma cell lines (RPMI 8226, OPM-1 and OPM-2). RPMI 8226 was found to be sensitive to PBLs, showing almost complete growth arrest when cultured with PBLs for 72 h. Inhibition of the growth of RPMI 8226 cells required direct cell-to-cell contact but not presensitization of the PBLs to the target cells, and did not depend on the generation of soluble factors. CD3+, CD4-, CD8- and CD16- cells were found to be the major subset contributing to inhibition of the growth of RPMI 8226 cells, and this growth inhibition was cytostatic rather than cytotoxic. These characteristics distinguished it from growth inhibition mediated by the natural killer system. Impaired PBL-mediated growth inhibition of RPMI 8226 cells was found in patients with various hematologic diseases, including myeloma. It therefore appears that the CD3+, CD4-, CD8- and CDI6- cell subset might be involved in tumor immunity in myeloma.