Four human leukemic T-cell lines with a T-cell receptor (TCR) gamma/delta heterodimer (MOLT-13, MOLT-14, and PEER) or beta/delta-heterodimer (DND-41), as determined by monoclonal antibody (mAb), TCR delta-1, were identified by phenotypic and genotypic analysis. Two similar human leukemic T-cell lines with a TCR alpha/beta heterodimer (CCRF-CEM and MOLT-16) were used in this study. Natural killer (NK)-like activity was investigated in the TCR gamma/delta+ cell lines and TCR alpha/beta+ cell lines induced by exogenous recombinant human IL-2 (rIL-2), or phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA). Three (MOLT-13, MOLT-14, and DND-41 cells) of the four TCR delta-1 positive cell lines, after 48 h treatment with exogenous rIL-2 or PMA (except DND-41), showed NK-like activity to K562, but not to Daudi cells. Furthermore, when MOLT-13, MOLT-14, and DND-41 cells were co-cultured with rIL-2 or PMA, 5-20% of these cells expressed the beta-subunit of IL-2R. Treatment with rIL-2 or PMA induced the expression of the beta-subunit of IL-2R, which in turn induced IL-2R. Subsequently these cells could transmit the signal for the induction of NK-like cytotoxicity. These findings indicate that changes in the beta-subunit of IL-2R expression may be responsible for the target cell specificity of activated effector cells.