Natural killer T (NKT) cells are a newly discovered subset of lymphocytes. It appears that this subset has potential as important regulators of immune responses. But because there are relatively few NKT cells in lymphoid organs and because of technical difficulties in detecting NKT cells in most mouse strains, the roles of NKT cells have not been fully identified and little attention has been paid to the roles of NKT cells in immunological experiments in which NK1.1- strains were used. To examine the existence of functional NKT cells in various strains of experimental mice, including NK1.1- strains, we utilized alpha-galactosylceramide (KRN7000) which is thought to react specifically with NKT cells. Indeed, we could confirm that early cytokine (IL-4 and IFN-gamma) secretion at 2 h after the injection of KRN7000 was dependent on NKT cells. With this in vivo system, we have successfully detected the presence of functional NKT cells in various mouse strains, including AKR/N, BALB/c, C3H/HeJ, C3H/HeN, C57BL/6, C.B-17, CBA/N, NC, NOD, SJL, W/Wv, aly/aly and aly/+. Notable increases of serum IL-4 were detected in W/Wv and aly/+ strains, and defective response of IFN-gamma in SJL mice and that of IL-4 in NOD mice were observed. This is the first report to show the functional significance of NKT cells in cytokine secretion in various mouse strains in response to a ligand for the T cell receptor of NKT cells.