A phase I/II clinical trial has been performed in 12 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients to evaluate the safety and tolerability of intrathecal implants of encapsulated genetically engineered baby hamster kidney (BHK) cells releasing human ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF). These patients have been assessed for a possible intrathecal or systemic immune response against the implanted xenogeneic cells. Hundreds of pg CNTF/ml could be detected for several weeks in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of 9 out of 12 patients, in 2 patients up to 20 weeks after capsule implantation. Slightly elevated leukocyte counts were observed in 6 patients. Clear evidence for a delayed humoral immune response was found in the CSF of only 3 patients out of 12 (patients #4, #6, and #10). Characterization of the antigen(s) recognized by the antibodies present in these CSF samples allowed to identify bovine fetuin as the main antigenic component. The defined medium used for maintaining the capsules in vitro before implantation contains bovine fetuin. Fetuin may therefore still be adsorbed to the surface of the cells and/or the polymer membrane, or be present in the medium surrounding the encapsulated cells at the time of implantation. Because of the insufficient availability of CSF samples, as well as the relatively poor sensitivity of the assays used, a weak humoral immune response against components of the implanted cells themselves cannot be excluded. However, the present study demonstrates that encapsulated xenogeneic cells implanted intrathecally can survive for up to 20 weeks in the absence of immunosuppression and that neither CNTF nor the presence of antibodies against bovine fetuin elicit any adverse side effects in the implanted patients.