NKp46 is a novel triggering receptor expressed by all human NK cells that is involved in natural cytotoxicity. In this study we show that the surface density of NKp46 may vary in different NK cells and that a precise correlation exists between the NKp46 phenotype of NK clones and their natural cytotoxicity against HLA-class I-unprotected allogeneic or xenogeneic cells. Thus, NKp46bright clones efficiently lysed human and murine tumor cells while NKp46dull clones were poorly cytolytic against both types of target cells. We also show that the NKp46 phenotype of NK clones correlates with their ability to lyse HLA-class I-unprotected autologous cells. Finally, NKp46 was found to be deeply involved in the natural cytotoxicity mediated by freshly derived NK cells. This was indicated both by the inhibition of cytolysis after monoclonal antibody-mediated masking of NKp46 and by the correlation existing between the natural cytotoxicity of fresh NK cells derived from different donors and their NKp46 phenotype. In conclusion, these studies strongly support the concept that NKp46 plays a central role in the physiological triggering of NK cells and, as a consequence (in concert with killer inhibitory receptors), in the NK-mediated clearance of abnormal cells expressing inadequate amounts of HLA-class I molecules.