2B4 (CD244) is expressed by memory-phenotype CD8(+) T cells and all natural killer (NK) cells. The ligand for 2B4, CD48, is expressed on hematopoietic cells. 2B4 is conserved in humans and mice, and a number of reports have linked 2B4 with activation of lymphocytes. We have employed 2B4-deficient mice and antibody blocking to analyze 2B4 function both in vitro and in vivo and found that 2B4 is a receptor with multiple functions. 2B4 is required for optimal activation of CD8(+) T cells and NK cells--in this context 2B4 requires interaction with CD48 on neighboring lymphocytes, demonstrating that homotypic interaction within NK cell or T cell populations augments immunity. When 2B4 is engaged by CD48 on a target cell, 2B4 conversely inhibits NK effector function. As an inhibitory receptor, 2B4 is unconventional as it is not regulated by MHC class I molecules. In this review we will discuss the significance of these multiple functions and the events that may regulate differential 2B4 signaling outcome.