Previous studies with a mycobacterial heat shock protein (hsp-65) have demonstrated some efficacy using cationic liposome-mediated gene transfer in murine i.p. sarcoma models. To further analyze the efficacy of hsp-65 immunotherapy in clinically relevant models of localized cancer, immunocompetent mice bearing i.p. murine mesothelioma were treated with four i.p. doses of a cationic lipid complexed with plasmid DNA (pDNA) containing hsp65, LacZ, or a null plasmid. We observed >90% long-term survival (median survival, 150 days versus approximately 25 days, treated versus saline control, respectively) in a syngeneic, i.p. murine mesothelioma model (AC29). Long-term survivors were observed in all groups treated with lipid complexed with any pDNA. Lipid alone or DNA alone provided no demonstrable survival advantage. In a more aggressive i.p. model of mesothelioma (AB12), we observed >40% long-term survival in groups treated with lipid:pDNA complexes, again irrespective of the transgene. To ask whether these antitumor effects had led to an adaptive immune response against the tumor cell, we rechallenged long-term survivors in both murine models s.c. with the parental tumor cell line. Specific, long-lasting systemic immunity against the tumor was readily demonstrated in both models (AB12 and AC29). Consistent with these results, splenocytes from long-term survivors specifically lysed the parental tumor cell lines. Depleting the CD8+ T-cells from the splenocyte pool eliminated this lytic activity. Lipid:pDNA treatment of athymic, SCID, and SCID/Beige mice bearing a murine i.p. mesothelioma (AC29) resulted in only a slight survival advantage, but there were no long-term survivors. Treatment of immunocompetent mice depleted of specific immune effector cells demonstrated roles for CD8+ and natural killer cells. Although the exact mechanism(s) responsible for these antitumor effects is unclear, the results are consistent with roles for both innate and adaptive immune responses. An initial tumor cell killing stimulated by cationic lipid:pDNA complexes appears to be translated into long-term, systemic immunity against the tumor cell. These results are the first to demonstrate that adaptive immunity against a tumor cell can be induced by the administration of lipid:pDNA complexes. Multiple administrations of cationic lipid complexed with pDNA lacking an expressed transgene could provide a promising generalized immune-mediated modality for treating cancer.