Human NK cells labelled intracellularly with the fluorescent dye 5- and 6-carboxyfluorescein diacetate succinimidyl ester (CFSE) were used to assess the effect of ligating class I MHC receptors on NK cell division. The NK cell lines used in these studies expressed a selection of the killer immunoglobulin-like receptors CD158b and CD158a and the CD94/NKG2 family of C-type lectin receptors. The NK cells were cultured in medium containing recombinant (r)IL-2 and receptors were ligated using plastic bound mAb or using soluble murine IgG mAb and FcRII+ gamma-irradiated murine P815 cells. The results obtained show that ligating class I MHC-activating receptors in either culture system stimulates NK cells to divide. Quantitative analysis of cell division reveals that a substantial loss of NK progenitor cells occurs when NK cell-activating receptors are ligated using plastic bound mAb, consistent with concomitant activation-induced cell death. By contrast, progenitor cell loss is prevented when activating receptors are ligated using soluble mAb and P815 cells, suggesting a role for cellular costimulation in cell survival. When inhibitory receptors are coligated with activating receptors using soluble mAb and P815 cells, NK cell division is inhibited. These results demonstrate the potential importance of the activating and inhibitory class I MHC receptors in regulating NK cell proliferation.