Cellular IL-10 (cIL-10), the collective term for human and murine IL-10, has both stimulatory and inhibitory effects on diverse cell types, including costimulation of T cell proliferation, chemoattraction of CD8+ T cells, and stimulation of lymphokine-activated killer cell activity. Human IL-10 (hIL-10) differs from its EBV homolog viral IL-10 (vIL-10) by only 16% at the amino acid level; however, vIL-10 shares with cIL-10 predominantly inhibitory effects, such as macrophage deactivation. We administered cIL-10 systemically to mice bearing established (day 7) sarcomas, melanomas, or colorectal carcinomas. At high doses (20 to 60 micrograms/day x 7 days), cIL-10 induced rejection of tumors, delaying tumor outgrowth or resulting in complete cure. Sublethal irradiation (500 rad) of mice prior to tumor inoculation abrogated the IL-10 effect. Cured mice were immune to subsequent rechallenge with 10-fold higher inoculation with the same, but not a different, tumor. IL-12 also has potent antitumor activity and interacts with IL-10 in both complementary and antagonistic ways; co-administration of both cytokines resulted in additive antitumor activity. To compare cIL-10 vs vIL-10 effects in vivo, we engineered CL8-1 melanoma transfectants bearing the vIL-10 or the murine IL-10 (mIL-10) gene. Local secretion of mIL-10 induced rejection of tumors, while vIL-10 resulted in accelerated outgrowth. Subsequent systemic administration of cIL-10 to mice bearing vIL-10-transduced tumors completely reversed the local suppressive effects, leading to rejection, suggesting distinct pathways for cIL-10 and vIL-10 effects. That cIL-10 can stimulate the acquisition of an effective, specific, and long-lived antitumor immune response in murine models and can reverse the local immunosuppressive effects of vIL-10 indicates a potential role for cIL-10 administration in the biologic therapy of cancer and suggests a broader interpretation of IL-10 biology.