We have shown that the ability of the human follicular lymphoma-derived cell line SU-DHL-6 to proliferate and survive in vitro depends on both Bcl-2 expression and multiple autocrine growth factors. Treatment with Bcl-2 antisense (AS Bcl-2) decreased Bcl-2 protein levels. However, a cytotoxic effect was seen only at very restricted cell densities. Below such densities cells underwent spontaneous death without any treatment, while above these cell densities no cytotoxic effect of AS Bcl-2 could be seen. The conditioned medium of SU-DHL cells supported the survival and growth of these cells cultivated at low cell densities and partially reversed the cytotoxicity associated with Bcl-2 depletion. RT/PCR analysis revealed autocrine expression of IL-1 beta, IL-2, IL-5 and TNF-beta in SU-DHL cells. Neutralizing antibodies against these cytokines inhibited SU-DHL proliferation. Thus, development of autocrine GF secretion may be the second step in the pathogenesis of follicular lymphomas.