CBA/J mice undergoing pulmonary granulomatous inflammation exhibited depressed NK cytolytic activity. Granulomas induced by i.v. embolization of Schistosoma mansoni eggs (hypersensitivity type) or Sephadex beads (foreign body type) both caused reduced NK activity, although hypersensitivity granulomas induced a significantly higher level of NK suppression. Kinetic analysis of hypersensitivity lesions at 4, 8, 16, and 32 days post-embolization indicated that NK activity was significantly suppressed by day 8, maximally suppressed by day 16 (at the peak of the inflammatory response) then returned to near control values by day 32 (as the granulomas resolved). Suppression of NK activity ranged from three- to 15-fold in different experiments. NK cells obtained from both spleen and peripheral blood demonstrated reduced NK activity with kinetic patterns similar to the granuloma NK cells. Suppression was not due to reduced splenic NK cells as the frequency of YAC-1 binding cells, as well as asialo GM1+ or laminin+ cells remained constant over the entire study period. Suppression of NK activity did not appear to be due to serum components or suppressor cells present in the spleen preparations. However, the suppression of NK activity could be reversed by overnight incubation of spleen cells at 25 or 37 degrees C or daily treatment of the mice with indomethacin. Suppression also appeared relatively specific for NK cells as the generation and expression of cytotoxic T lymphocyte activity was not affected.