The pressing need for a better experimental system for AIDS research has brought into sharp focus the shortcomings of available animal models and the practical and ethical limitations of studies of immune responses and viral pathogenesis in humans. Current studies of the human immune responses are limited to relatively restrictive in vivo experiments and several in vitro systems that, although useful, allow only short-term studies and support responses to a few antigens. Neither model is particularly amenable to studies of the pathogenesis of diseases of the immune system. We report here that injection of human peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) can result in the stable long-term reconstitution of a functional human immune system in mice with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Human PBL transplanted to SCID mice increase in number and survive for at least six months; reconstituted mice show spontaneous secretion of human immunoglobulin and a specific human antibody response is induced following immunization with tetanus toxoid. All of the major cell populations present in PBL are found in the lymphoid tissue and blood of SCID recipients, although the relative proportions of B cells, T-cell subsets and monocytes/macrophages in long-term recipients differ from those found in normal PBL and, in mice transplanted with 50 x 10(6) or more PBL from Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-seropositive donors, EBV-positive B-cell lymphomas often develop. Our results suggest that xenogeneic transplantation of human lymphoid cells into SCID mice may provide a useful model for the study of normal human immune function, the response of the immune system to pathogenic agents and early events in lymphomagensis.