The mechanism of natural killer (NK) cell regulatory role in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) was studied in SJL/J mice. In vivo experiments showed that NK cell depletion by anti-NK1.1 monoclonal antibody treatment enhanced EAE in mice. To investigate the mechanism, we cultured proteolipid protein (PLP)136-150 peptide-specific, encephalitogenic T cell lines, which were used as the NK cell target. Our results show that NK cells exert a direct cytotoxic effect on autoantigen-specific, encephalitogenic T cells. Furthermore, cytotoxicity to PLP-specific, encephalitogenic T line cells was enhanced by using enriched NK cells as effector cells. However, the cytotoxic effect of NK cells to ovalbumin-specific T line cells and ConA-stimulated T cells could also be detected with a lesser efficiency. Our studies indicate that NK cells play a regulatory role in EAE through killing of syngeneic T cells which include myelin antigen-specific, encephalitogenic T cells, and thus ameliorate EAE.