Immunotherapy by adoptive transfer of autologous tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) shows promising clinical results for stage III (lymph nodes metastasis) melanoma patients, but some of them remain unresponsive. Here we analysed retrospectively the impact of resistance of melanoma cells to anti-proliferative cytokines on the clinical outcome of 24 TIL-treated metastatic melanoma patients. Patient relapse-free survival correlated significantly with Oncostatin M (OSM) and/or IL-6 sensitivity of melanoma cells, but not with interferon (IFN) γ or tumour necrosis factor (TNF) α sensitivity. However, OSM/IL-6 sensitivity did not correlate with other known prognostic factors. Moreover, OSM and IL-6 were produced by TIL just before their injection to patients. In immunodeficient mice, OSM reduced human melanoma xenograft tumour growth, this effect being directly through inhibition of tumour cell proliferation rather than induction of apoptosis or necrosis. Thus, OSM/IL-6 resistance of melanoma cells appears to be a new escape mechanism to TIL treatment that could be added to the existing prognostic factors for early stage melanoma patients. This mechanism of action could be also relevant in other immunotherapy protocols, and could lead to better prognosis and anti-cancer treatments. Copyright © 2008 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.