Athymic nude rats resemble nude mice in their lack of a normal thymus and functionally mature T cells. They have been useful in the study of mechanisms of tumor growth or graft rejection in immunocompromised hosts since they can accept major histocompatibility complex (MHC) mismatched organ allografts or xenografts for several months and because a number of tumor cell lines of human and rodent origin grow well in these rats. Injection of a few helper T (Th) cells from euthymic littermate rats partly restores the pool of mature T cells as well as full immunocompetence to reject organ allografts and has helped to reveal some of the cell interactions necessary for rejection to occur In contrast, immunologically naive athymic nude rats of certain strains, acutely reject allografts consisting of lymphocytes or bone marrow cells, which is due to the presence of alloreactive natural killer cells. These cells can recognize and kill MHC incompatible hematopoietic cells through the recognition of both mismatches within the classical (RT1.A) and nonclassical (RT1.C/E) MHC class I regions with a repertoire of inhibitory and activating killer lectin-like receptors (KLR) for MHC-I molecules, encoded by the Ly-49 portion of the rat natural killer cell gene complex (NKC). Some of these receptors have been identified and molecularly cloned and show similarities with NK receptors identified in the mouse. Other leukocytes in nude rats, such as dendritic cells, may also contribute to specific innate immune responses in the absence of mature T cells. Nude rats develop T-like cells expressing CD3 and T-cell receptor (TCR) with increasing age. Though their phenotype in peripheral lymphatic tissues resembles that of normal T cells, consisting mainly of CD4+ or CD8+ cells, they lack alloreactivity in vivo and their TCR repertoire is more of an oligoclonal nature. Their contribution to allograft rejection in T-cell-reconstituted rats is therefore questionable, and their role in innate immune response in these rats still enigmatic.