Thirty-mer single-stranded oligonucleotides, with a sequence chosen from the known cDNA encoding the 64-kDa protein named Ag A or the MPB-70 protein of Mycobacterium bovis BCG and the human cellular proteins such as complement component 1 inhibitor and Ig rearranged lambda-chain, were used to dissect the capability to induce IFN and to augment NK cell activity of mouse spleen cells by coincubation in vitro. Three with the hexamer palindromic sequence as GACGTC were active, whereas two kinds of oligonucleotides with no palindrome were inactive. The oligonucleotides containing at least one of the different palindromic sequences showed no activity. When a portion of the sequence of the inactive oligonucleotides was substituted with either palindromic sequence of GACGTC, AGCGCT, or AACGTT, the oligonucleotide acquired the ability to augment NK activity. In contrast, the oligonucleotides substituted with another palindromic sequence such as ACCGGT was without effect. Furthermore, exchange of two neighboring mononucleotides within, but not outside, the active palindromic sequence destroyed the ability of the oligonucleotides to augment NK cell activity. Stimulation of spleen cells with the substituted oligonucleotide, A4a-AAC, induced production of significant amounts of IFN-alpha/beta and small amounts of IFN-gamma. Augmentation of NK activity of the cells by the oligonucleotide was ascribed to IFN-alpha/beta production. These results strongly suggest that the presence of the unique palindromic sequences, such as GACGTC, AGCGCT, and AACGTT, but not ACCGGT, is essential for the immunostimulatory activity of oligonucleotides.