We have conducted a clinical trial utilizing anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) for the treatment of patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. Six patients were treated; 50% reductions in tumor mass of short duration were observed in one patient with a T-cell lymphoma and two patients with B-cell lymphomas. In vitro assays have been performed in an attempt to study the reactivity and potential mechanism of antitumor action of the ATG. The ATG bound to essentially all normal blood mononuclear leukocytes as well as tumor cells from patients with T-, B-, or null cell lymphomas demonstrating its lack of specificity. Furthermore, complement-mediated lysis of normal mononuclear leukocytes, normal T- or B-cells, and tumor cells from two unresponsive patients were all comparable; moreover, since this lysis occurred only at concentrations of ATG that are not attainable in vivo, it is unlikely that complement-mediated cytotoxicity accounts for the responses observed. Peripheral blood lymphocyte counts and total erythrocyte rosettes did decrease during ATG treatment. Thus, objective tumor responses in both B- and T-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphomas can be achieved with a very nonspecific antiserum although significant toxicity resulted. Whether the magnitude or duration of response can be increased with monoclonal antibodies remains to be determined. Future success with serotherapy might require use of either a battery of different monoclonal antibodies or a single monoclonal antibody that can deliver radioisotopes, chemotherapy, or toxins to the tumor cells.