When purified populations of human natural killer (NK) cells were tested for cytotoxic activity in the presence of partially purified preparations of human interleukin 2 (IL 2), a definite, dose-dependent linear increase in reactivity was observed. To determine whether such augmentation by IL 2 might reflect an important aspect of the physiologic regulation of NK activity, we examined the effects of monoclonal antibodies against human IL 2 on spontaneous NK activity. The presence of such antibodies during the 4-hr cytotoxicity assay resulted in significant inhibition of NK activity, and when the NK cells were pretreated for 16 to 20 hr with anti-IL 2, little or no activity remained. These data suggest that the spontaneous cytotoxic activity of NK cells is dependent on their continued exposure to IL 2. The reduction in NK activity resulting from treatment with anti-IL 2 could be at least partially restored by exposure to only low amounts of partially purified IL 2. These data have provided the basis for formulating a novel model of NK cell activation.

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