Abstract Unexpected cytolysis was encountered when nonactivated murine peritoneal macrophages were cultured with [ 3H]TdR-prelabeled syngeneic or allogeneic tumor cells at a 10:1 ratio. The level of specific cytolysis reached 70% within 48 hr of cocultivation. Similar killing was observed whether the macrophages were derived from untreated, thioglycollate-treated, or germ-free mice. Cytolytic activity was also demonstrated when bone marrow-derived or peritoneal macrophages from 9- and 5-day in vitro cultures, respectively, were employed rather than freshly harvested peritoneal macrophages. Thus, the macrophage-mediated killing was neither the result of in vivo preactivation nor a consequence of the presence of lymphocytes in the assay. Moreover, macrophages derived from different strains caused similar effects. Our study revealed that the neoplastic target cell cultures susceptible to cytolysis by nonactivated macrophages were contaminated with mycoplasma. A mycoplasma was isolated from the supernatant of a culture of the A9HT fibrosarcoma line, identified as Mycoplasma orale, and cultivated. Addition of viable mycoplasma from that isolate to mixed cultures of thioglycollate-elicited macrophages and [ 3H]TdR-prelabeled mycoplasma-free target cells resulted in specific cytolysis of transformed A9 cells, but not of normal mouse fibroblasts. The level of macrophage-dependent cytolysis correlated with the number of viable mycoplasma cells added and was higher than that attained by activation with LPS at optimal concentration. Similar specific cytolysis was observed with heat-killed mycoplasmas. Our results demonstrate that mycoplasmas may cause selective macrophage-mediated cytolysis of neoplastic but not of normal target cells, perhaps via activation of the macrophages. It is suggested that undetected infection of experimental systems by mycoplasmas may account for some reports on lysis of neoplastic cells by nonactivated macrophages.