Promising results of umbilical cord blood transplantation (UCBT) from unrelated donors have been reported in patients with hematologic disorders. These transplants, having potential to trigger beneficial donor-versus-recipient natural killer (NK) cell-mediated alloreaction, we have conducted the first extensive analysis of the phenotypic and functional properties of NK cells after UCBT. NK cells from 25 patients with high-risk hematologic malignancies were compared with cells derived from both healthy adult and CB cells. We found that following UCBT, NK cells display not only some phenotypic features associated with maturity but also unique characteristics that make them fully functional against leukemic blasts. We propose that this full functionality of alloreactive donor-derived NK may drive graft-versus-leukemia reactions after UCBT.