Murine natural killer (NK) cells express two families of MHC class I-specific receptors, namely the Ly49 family and CD94/NKG2 heterodimers. Stochastic co-expression of these receptors generates diverse receptor repertoires in adult NK-cell populations, whereas fetal NK cells have much more limited receptor diversity as they mostly express CD94/NKG2A but not Ly49. These receptors are also expressed on CD8-T cells and NK1.1+ T cells and regulate their functions, but their expression pattern on NK cells is significantly different from those on T cells. Thus, expression of Ly49 and CD94/NKG2 is developmentally regulated. NK cells acquire the Ly49 family of receptors in an orderly manner as they differentiate from bone marrow progenitors in vitro. Similarly, acquisition of CD94 and NKG2 by NK cells as they differentiate from embryonic stem cells is also orderly To gain insight into the mechanisms regulating Ly49 expression, potential regulatory regions of several Ly49 genes have been examined. Ly49 genes with different expression patterns have remarkably similar sequences in the putative regulatory regions. Finally, a functional Ly49 gene has been identified in baboon, and primate comparisons suggest that functional extinction of the Ly49 gene in the human lineage seems to have been a relatively recent event.