In clinical trials with interferon alpha 2b (IFN-alpha 2b) as maintenance therapy for multiple myeloma, the therapeutic benefit is inconclusive. Although the mechanism(s) by which IFN-alpha 2b prolongs remission in some patients is unknown, 2',5'-oligoadenylate synthetase (2,5-A synthetase) has been used as an objective indicator that IFN-alpha 2b is active in vivo. The enzyme was assayed in cytosol preparations of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (MNCs) from 111 patients who were receiving IFN-alpha 2b and 54 patients who were not, using an assay which measures the conversion of [alpha-32P]ATP to triphospho(adenylyl 2',5')adenosine. 2,5-A synthetase activity was compared with response to intensive therapy and with duration of maintenance therapy. Seventy-three per cent of patients had measurable amounts of 2,5-A synthetase during the first 6 months of maintenance therapy. This percentage decreased with longer follow-up but not significantly. There was no difference between the magnitude of enzyme induction amongst patients who were in complete remission, partial response or who had no change in disease status following intensive therapy. Peripheral blood T cells were a major source of 2,5-A synthetase activity in patients receiving the cytokine. However, both T and B cells produced the enzyme following exposure to IFN-alpha in vitro. The data show that the level of 2,5-A synthetase in patients with multiple myeloma is not indicative of clinical response to IFN-alpha 2b.