Peptides from 10 to 22 amino acids containing sequences encompassed by Staphylococcus aureus protein A were synthesized. Some of these peptides, when present in cultures of lymphomononuclear cells from healthy donors or from cancer patients (melanoma, breast carcinoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and renal cell carcinoma) promoted: (i) changes in the phenotype of the lymphomononuclear population, (ii) stimulation of monocytes (release of IL-1 and TNF-alpha), and (iii) an increase in cytotoxicity against K562, Daudi and HT-29 cells. Isolated monocytes responded also to those peptides with a release of IL-1 and TNF alpha and an increase of cytotoxicity against HT-29 cells. It was found that the active peptides had the following structural pattern: a length of at least 15 amino-acid residues with a proline at position 6, valine, leucine, isoleucine, glycine, alanine or lysine at position 2, and glutamic or aspartic acid at position 11. Replacement of Pro at position 6 with any other residue turned the peptide inactive. Replacement of residues at positions 2 and 11 with amino-acid residues other than those required for activity resulted in compounds with a marked decrease in the immunomodulating properties described, or lacking these properties altogether.