Administration of lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells in combination with interleukin 2 (IL-2) has been effective in reducing tumor mass in humans, but has been accompanied by significant toxicity. We used a chronic awake sheep model to investigate the cause of the vascular leak syndrome associated with IL-2 administration. Sheep repeatedly infused with human recombinant IL-2 (hrIL-2) developed mild pulmonary hypertension, systemic hypotension, acidemia, hypoxemia, and increased flow of protein rich lung lymph. We hypothesized that LAK cells may damage lung endothelium in vivo and cause increased lung vascular permeability. Sheep peripheral blood and lung lymph lymphocytes incubated in vitro with hrIL-2 generated cytotoxic activity for human K-562 cells and sheep pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells. In addition, cytotoxic effector cells were isolated from the peripheral blood of a sheep which had received hrIL-2. These observations suggest that LAK cells possess the ability to damage endothelial cells and may contribute to an increased pulmonary vascular permeability observed following hrIL-2 infusion in sheep.