Natural killer (NK) cells spontaneously detect and kill cancerous and virally infected cells through receptors that transduce either activating or inhibiting signals. The majority of well studied NK receptors are involved in inhibitory signaling. However, we have previously described an activating receptor, 2B4, expressed on all murine NK cells and a subset of T cells that mediate non-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) restricted killing. Anti-2B4 monoclonal antibodies directed against IL-2-activated NK cells enhanced their destruction of tumor cells. Recently, we determined binding of 2B4 to CD48 with a much higher affinity than CD2 to CD48. Here we describe the molecular characterization of a cDNA clone homologous to mouse 2B4, isolated from a human NK cell library. The cDNA clone contained an open reading frame encoding a polypeptide chain of 365 amino acid residues. The predicted protein sequence showed 70% similarity to murine 2B4. Additionally, it has 48, 45, and 43% similarity to human CD84, CDw150 (SLAM), and CD48, respectively. RNA blot analysis indicates the presence of 3 kb and 5 kb transcripts in T- and NK-cell lines. A single transcript of 3 kb is identified in poly(A)+ RNA from human spleen, peripheral blood leukocytes, and lymph node, whereas, the level of expression in bone marrow and fetal liver was indeterminate. Preliminary functional data suggests that NK-cell interaction with target cells via 2B4 modulates human NK-cell cytolytic activity.