Because they are difficult to treat, animal models of widespread, established metastatic cancer are rarely used to test novel immunotherapies. Two such mouse models are used in this report to demonstrate the therapeutic efficacy and to probe the mechanisms of a novel combination immunotherapy consisting of the cytokine interleukin-12 (IL-12) combined with a previously described vaccine based on MHC class II, CD80-expressing cells. BALB/c mice with 3-week established primary 4T1 mammary carcinomas up to 6 mm in diameter and with extensive, spontaneous lung metastases show a significant reduction in lung metastases following a 3-week course of immunotherapy consisting of weekly injections of the cell-based vaccine plus injections of IL-12 three times per week. C57BL/6 mice with 7-day established intravenous B16 melF10 lung metastases show a similar response following immunotherapy with IL-12 plus a vaccine based on B16 MHC class II, CD80-expressing cells. In both systems the combination therapy of cells plus IL-12 is more effective than IL-12 or the cellular vaccine alone, although, in the 4T1 system, optimal activity does not require MHC class II and CD80 expression in the vaccine cells. The cell-based vaccines were originally designed to activate tumor-specific CD4+ T lymphocytes specifically and thereby provide helper activity to tumor-cytotoxic CD8+ T cells, and IL-12 was added to the therapy to facilitate T helper type 1 lymphocyte (Th1) differentiation. In vivo depletion experiments for CD4+ and CD8+ T cells and natural killer (NK) cells and tumor challenge experiments in beige/nude/XID immunodeficient mice demonstrate that the therapeutic effect is not exclusively dependent on a single cell population, suggesting that T and NK cells are acting together to optimize the response. IL-12 may also be enhancing the immunotherapy via induction of the chemokine Mig (monokine induced by interferon gamma), because reverse PCR experiments demonstrate that Mig is present in the lungs of mice receiving therapy and is most likely synthesized by the tumor cells. These results demonstrate that the combination therapy of systemic IL-12 and a cell-based vaccine is an effective agent for the treatment of advanced, disseminated metastatic cancers in experimental mouse models and that multiple effector cell populations and anti-angiostatic factors are likely to mediate the effect.