Spontaneously cytotoxic murine lymphocytes lysed certain cell types infected by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) better than uninfected cells. The levels of virus-directed lysis varied widely from target to target, and we found that differences in virus-directed lytic efficiency could be attributed both to the characteristics of HSV-1 replication in the different targets and to the subgroup of natural effector cells which mediated lysis. Although HSV-1 adsorbed to the surface of all the target cells, those in which the virus replicated more efficiently were lysed to a greater extent. As targets, we used cell lines that, when uninfected, were spontaneously lysed by NK cells (YAC-1) or by NC cells (WEHI-164). We also used a fibroblastoid cell line (M50) and a monocytic tumor line (PU51R), which were not spontaneously killed. Using complement-mediated elimination of Qa-5-positive or asialo-GM1-positive NK cells to distinguish NK from NC activity, we found that NK cells lysed HSV-1-infected YAC cells better than uninfected cells, and an NC-like activity selectively lysed HSV-1-infected WEHI cells. In addition, we showed that both NK and NC cytotoxicities contributed to the lysis against the HSV-1-infected fibroblastoid line, M50, but the infected PU51R cells were killed by only NK effectors. These findings were consistent with the results of experiments performed to define the role of interferon in induction of virus-augmented cytolysis. Increased lysis of YAC-HSV and PU51R-HSV was entirely due to interferon activation and was completely abolished by performing the 51Cr-release assay in the presence of anti-interferon serum. Because NC activity was not augmented by interferon, virus-enhanced NC lysis of M50-HSV and WEHI-HSV was not due to this nonspecific mechanism. Together, our data show that HSV-1 infection of NK/NC targets induces increased cytotoxicity, but the effector cell responsible for lysis is determined by the uninfected target, or by an interaction between the virus and target cell, rather than by a viral determinant alone.