Studies were performed to characterize the effector cells responsible for natural cytotoxicity of mouse lymphoid cells against a variety of syngeneic and allogeneic tumor lines. Since spleen cells from normal nude mice were found to be highly cytotoxic, they were used for most of these experiments. Only a small proportion of the reactivity was affected by treatment with anti-theta serum plus complement. Macrophages dis not appear to be responsible for the reactivity, since treatment with carbonyl iron/magnet or carrageenan did not affect the levels of cytotoxicity. The effector cells were non-adherent, since passage over nylon columns resulted in a considerable increase in activity. The active cells did not have receptors for immunoglobulin or complement, since removal of cells with these receptors by columns or monolayers containing sheep erythrocyte-antibody (EA) complexes or EA-complement complexes did not remove activity. Antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity appeared to be ruled out as the mechanism for natural cytotoxicity, since aggregated gamma globulin and a potent anti-immunoglobulin reagent did not inhibit reactivity, and since no role for humoral factors could be demonstrated. The natural effector cell was found to be quite labile at 37 degrees C, losing much of its activity after 4 h. Since no surface markers could be detected on the effector cells, and the mechanism for cytotoxicity appeared distince from others previously described, it is proposed that the natural cytotoxicity against mouse tumor cells is mediated by a unique subpopulation of lymphoid cells, which are tentatively designated N-cells.