Human lymphocytes secreting tumor cell-specific IgM antibodies were enriched in vitro following the stimulation of allogeneic human splenocytes from nontumor-bearing donors with cytostatic tumor cells or tumor cell plasma membrane fractions. The antibodies were generally of the IgM class and displayed low intrinsic affinity (K(d) > 100 nM). Nonetheless, the avidity arising from multivalent binding sites permitted the identification of multiple monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) displaying specificity for cultured tumor cells. Five antibodies were cloned from the B cells and two of these were expressed as human Fabs with IgG(1) constant regions. Although the avidity of the human IgM antibodies was sufficient to permit detection in the original screening, the monovalent Fabs displayed low binding activities, consistent with their low intrinsic affinity. Thus, in vitro affinity maturation was used to rapidly generate multiple variants of both antibodies displaying greater than 100-fold higher affinity. Two of the antibodies were characterized further and shown to have distinct specificities. One of the targets, LH11238, is associated both with the plasma membrane and with lysosomes and is rapidly internalized following incubation of the antibody with intact live cell monolayers. The second antigen, designated LH13, is a secreted antigen that has been enriched 200-fold from conditioned media and consists of two reactive bands at 42 and 45 kDa on denaturing Western blots. The stimulation and enrichment of human lymphocytes in culture coupled with rapid in vitro affinity maturation of low affinity antibodies potentially enables the discovery of human antibodies to a broader range of epitopes, including those that might be of greater therapeutic relevance.