Mice were treated with the bone-seeking isotope, 89Sr, cyclophosphamide, and short-term lethal irradiation in vivo, and murine spleen cells are treated with anti-Nk-1.2 plus complement (C) in vitro. Fresh spleen cell suspensions from the above groups and from beige and neonatal mice were subsequently tested for natural killer (NK) cell activity against a panel of lymphoid and nonlymphoid tumor cell target. NK cell reactivities against YAC-1, MPC-11, and Cl.18 tumors were markedly and consistently reduced in (a) mice treated with 89Sr, (b) spleen cells treated with anti-Nk-1.2 plus C, and (c) C57BL/6 bg/bg mice. In contrast, NK activities against FLD-3 and WEHI-164.1 tumors were usually normal in mice treated with 89Sr, in beige mutant mice, and in spleen cells after treatment with anti-Nk-1.2 antibody and C. It appears, therefore, that two major groups of NK cells exist in fresh mouse spleen cells suspensions. NK-A cells are marrow dependent, Nk antigen positive, and deficient in beige mice; these lyse YAC-1, MPC-11, and Cl.18 tumors. NK-B cells, which are responsible for the lysis of WEHI-164.1 and FLD-3, are Nk antigen negative, marrow independent, and unaffected by the bg/bg mutation. Other features of NK-B cells, suggest that these NK cells, although they share the characteristics mentioned above, differ among themselves especially with respect to age of maturation and susceptibility to cyclophosphamide and total body irradiation. The NK-B group may therefore induce subsets that remain to be defined.

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