We studied the expression of granulocyte–macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and its receptors (GM-CSF.R) in 20 human brain gliomas with different tumor gradings and demonstrated constitutive high levels of both mRNA gene expression and protein production exclusively in the highest-grade tumors (WHO, III–IV grade). Five astrocytic cell lines were isolated in vitro from glioma cells, which had selectively adhered to plates pre-coated with rhGM-CSF. These cells were tumorigenic when xenografted to athymic mice, and produced GM-CSF constitutively in culture. Two lines, particularly lines AS1 and PG1, each from a patient with glioblastoma multiforme, constitutively over-expressed both GM-CSF and GM-CSF.R genes and secreted into their culture media biologically active GM-CSF. Different clones of the AS1 line, isolated after subsequent passages in vitro and then transplanted to athymic mice, demonstrated higher tumorigenic capacity with increasing passages in vivo. Cell proliferation was stimulated by rhGM-CSF in late-stage malignant clones, whereas apoptosis occurred at high frequency in the presence of blocking anti-GM-CSF antibodies. In contrast, rhGM-CSF did not induce any apparent effect in early-stage clones expressing neither GM-CSF nor GM-CSF.R. The addition of rhGM-CSF or rhIL-1β, to cultures induced the overproduction of both GM-CSF and its receptors and increased gene activation for several functional proteins (e.g. NGF, VEGF, VEGF.R1, G-CSF, MHC-II), indicating that these cells may undergo dynamic changes in response to environmental stimuli. These findings thus revealed: (1) that the co-expression of both autocrine GM-CSF and GM-CSF.R correlates with the advanced tumor stage; (2) that an important contribution of GM-CSF in malignant glioma cells is the prevention of apoptosis. These results imply that GM-CSF has an effective role in the evolution and pathogenesis of gliomas.