Based on preclinical studies showing that CD8+ T lymphocytes of human immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV)-infected subjects have anti-HIV activities, a phase 1 study was undertaken to determine the safety and feasibility of infusing in vitro purified, activated, and expanded CD8+ cells as a therapeutic measure in seven patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-related complex (ARC) or AIDS. Autologous CD8+ cells were first selectively isolated in monoclonal antibody-coated flasks from peripheral blood mononuclear cells recovered by leukapheresis. They were then cultured and expanded with phytohemagglutinin and recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2) before infusion. Five cycles of isolations and infusions of increasing numbers of CD8+ T cells were achieved in five of seven subjects. Five cycles could not be completed in two subjects with AIDS whose CD4+ cell counts were < or = 48/microliters. Infusions of CD8+ cells alone were well tolerated. Four patients received rIL-2 by continuous infusion for 5 days with their final cycle of CD8+ cells. All developed reversible adverse effects attributable to rIL-2. After infusion, 111In-labeled CD8+ cells quickly accumulated in the lungs, with less than 10% of the labeled cells remaining in the circulation. After 24 hours, labeled CD8+ cells were reduced in the lungs, but increased and persisted in liver, spleen, and bone marrow. Four of five patients who were treated with multiple infusions of CD8+ cells have improved or remained clinically stable, and the fifth developed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia but recovered. This study demonstrated that infusion of autologous, in vitro expanded and activated CD8+ cells was feasible and clinically well tolerated in five of seven subjects with advanced HIV infections.