Renal cell carcinoma primary tumors and lung metastases are infiltrated by activated natural killer (NK) cells. Interleukin (IL)-15, a major cytokine involved in cross-talk between accessory cells (dendritic cells and macrophages) and NK cells, is produced by epithelial renal cells. We show that renal cell carcinoma cells and normal renal cells express IL-15 mRNA and membrane-bound IL-15 (MbIL-15). These cells also express IL-15 receptor alpha (IL-15Ralpha). Silencing of IL-15Ralpha by specific small interfering RNA in renal cell carcinoma had no effect on MbIL-15 production, indicating that the cytokine is not cross-presented by IL-15Ralpha in renal cell carcinoma cells but anchored to the membrane. Furthermore, we show that MbIL-15 from renal cell carcinoma cells is functional and involved in rapid nuclear translocation of phosphorylated signal transducers and activators of transcription 3 in IL-2-starved NK cells. MbIL-15 on the target did not interfere with resting NK cell activation and target cell cytolysis but rescued NK cells from IL-2 starvation-induced apoptosis through contact-dependent interaction. Masking of MbIL-15 with soluble IL-15Ralpha molecules restored NK cell apoptosis. These findings suggest that IL-15 produced by renal tumor cells is involved in the maintenance of active NK cells at the tumor site.