The comparative cytotoxic specificities of freshly isolated human adherent and nonadherent blood mononuclear cells were examined against seven established target cell lines in 4 and 18 hr chromium release assays. The relative sensitivity of each target cell line to the cytotoxic effects of both adherent and nonadherent effector cells in cultures was identical. Moreover, the relative enhancing effects of interferon on cytotoxicity by both effector cell types were also identical. These adherent cell preparations were contaminated with up to 6% NK cells, as demonstrated by OKM1 staining and flow microfluorometry. These NK cells were loosely adherent and could be removed by vigorous wash procedures. The remaining tightly adherent monocytes also had the capacity to kill K562 cells and Chang cells, but these cytotoxic effects could not be increased by interferon. Enhancement by lactoferrin, however, was consistently observed. Treatment of mononuclear cells with Leu-lla, a monoclonal antibody that reacts with all NK cells, also abolished the enhancing effects of interferon, but not lactoferrin. These studies suggest that caution must be exercised in attributing all cytotoxic activities in adherent cell preparations to monocytes, and that lactoferrin and interferon can be used as functional probes to detect two distinct blood mononuclear cell subsets with natural cytotoxicity.