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The liver macrophage population was fractionated according to cell size into three subpopulations by means of elutriation centrifugation. The total liver macrophage population and the three subpopulations were cultured and exposed to the immunomodulators muramyl dipeptide (MDP), in a free or liposome-encapsulated form, and/or lipopolysaccharide (LPS). The tumor cytotoxic activity thus induced in the populations, the preservation of this activity, and the response to a second stimulus were studied. The in vitro induced cytolytic activity was determined by a radioactivity release assay, using C26 colon adenocarcinoma cells, labeled with [methyl-3H]thymidine, as target cells. MDP or LPS readily activated the total macrophage population in maintenance culture to a tumor cytotoxic state during the first 2 days after isolation. Four days after isolation, the activation induced with both MDP and LPS was strongly reduced. The small to intermediate-size macrophages could be activated to tumor cytotoxic activity with MDP for up to 3 days and with LPS for up to 4 days in culture. The large-size macrophages could only be activated up to day 2 in culture with MDP or LPS or both. The combination of MDP and LPS, however, induced all cell populations in a synergistic way to become cytolytic for up to 4 days in culture. With free MDP as an activator, the activated state decayed within 1 day to almost zero levels, but less rapidly in the small cells than in the large cells. With liposome-encapsulated MDP, the activated state was preserved considerably longer, except in the largest cells. A second exposure of the macrophages to LPS and MDP, either separately or in combination, 48 h after the first exposure to the same agent(s), i.e., at a time when the initial activity had fully decayed, showed a considerable reduction in the responsiveness in the small to intermediate-size cells and a complete lack of response in the large cells.