Patients who receive bone marrow transplants from unrelated donors have a high incidence of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). If the donor marrow is first T cell-depleted, the everity of GVHD declines but the risk of rejection rises. In an attempt to prevent both graft rejection and GVHD, we included an anti-T cell antibody-toxin conjugate (CD-5-Ricin; XomaZyme H65) in the transplant conditioning regimen. After receiving a partially T cell-depleted marrow, patients then received a second course of immunotoxin as additional GVHD prophylaxis. Eight recipients of unrelated donor marrow transplants were studied. All engrafted (ANC > 500 x 10(6)/l by day 15, range 13-20 days). One patient had grade II skin GVHD and one developed grade IV disease but the other six patients had no acute GVHD. However, there was high morbidity and mortality from virus infections associated with a sluggish return of CD4 and CD8 T cells into the normal range. Four patients died from virus disease (CMV, n = 2; EBV, n = 1; adenovirus, n = 1) and the remaining patients had frequent documented viral illnesses during the first year. We conclude that improvement in the outcome of unrelated donor marrow transplantation will require strategies which prevent rejection and GVHD coupled with attempts to accelerate immune reconstitution.