Modulation of the immune system by genetically modified immunological effector cells is of potential therapeutic value in the treatment of malignancies. Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is a crucial cytokine which induces potent antitumor response. Cytokine-induced killer cells (CIK) have been described as highly efficient cytotoxic effector cells capable of lysing tumor cell targets and are capable of recognizing these cells in a non-MHC restricted fashion. Dendritic cells (DC) are the major antigen presenting cells. This study evaluated the antitumor effect of CIK cells which were non-virally transfected with IL-2 and co-cultured with pulsed and unpulsed DC. Human CIK cells generated from peripheral blood were transfected in vitro with plasmid encoding for the human IL-2. Transfection involved a combination of electrical parameters and a specific solution to deliver plasmid directly to the cell nucleus by using the Nucleofector(R) electroporation system. Nucleofection resulted in the production of IL-2 with a mean of 478.5 pg/106 cells (range of 107.6-1079.3 pg /106 cells/24 h) compared to mock transfected CIK cells (31 pg/106 cells) (P = 0.05). After co-culturing with DC their functional ability was assessed in vitro by a cytotoxicity assay. On comparison with non-transfected CIK cells co-cultured with DCs (36.5 +/- 5.3 %), transfected CIK cells co-cultured with DC had a significantly higher lytic activity of 58.5 +/- 3.2% (P = 0.03) against Dan G cells, a human pancreatic carcinoma cell line.