CD16 and natural killer (NK) cells appear to play a central role in mediating the anti-tumor effects of monoclonal antibody (mAb) therapy, yet little is known about changes in NK cells that result from interaction of the NK cells with mAb-coated tumor cells under physiologic conditions. We developed a system using peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and either transformed B cells or breast cancer cells to assess how mAbs impact on NK cell phenotype. Rituximab, apolizumab and trastuzumab induced modulation of CD16 and upregulation of CD54 on NK cells when the appropriate target cells were present. Higher concentrations of mAb were needed to induce these changes on NK cells from subjects with the lower affinity CD16 polymorphism. Phenotypic changes were greater in NK cells from subjects with the higher affinity polymorphism even when saturating concentrations of mAb were used, demonstrating increased concentration of mAb can overcome some, but not all, of the influence CD16 polymorphisms have on NK activation. These studies provide a straightforward and easily reproducible technique to measure the ability of mAb-coated tumor cells to activate NK cells in vitro which should be particularly useful as mAbs with varying affinity for both target antigen and Fc receptor (FcR) are developed.