Splenocytes from mice of genotype scid/scid.bg/bg were tested in vitro to characterize the nature of the immunological deficit in these doubly mutant animals. The cells were unresponsive to the mitogens LPS and Con A and to alloantigens, as predicted for scid/scid genotype. Splenocytes from scid/scid.bg/bg lysed the NK cell-sensitive target cell line YAC at levels approximately 50% lower than those observed for scid/scid splenocytes. Splenocytes from SCID-beige mice failed to lyse the NK-resistant, LAK-sensitive cell line P815 but showed high levels of activity against the murine placental cell line Be6. Lytic activity was found in both nonadherent and plastic adherent cells and was eliminated by pretreatment of the effectors with anti-asialo-GM1 and complement. Incubation of 1 x 10(5) splenocytes with hrIL-2 failed to induce blastogenesis in scid/scid.bg/bg cells but produced a response in cultures of scid/scid or bg/bg spleen cells. However, blastogenesis and elevated levels of LAK-type killing were observed following incubation of higher numbers of scid/scid.bg/bg splenocytes in hrIL-2. Thus, doubly mutant scid/scid.bg/bg mice have reduced NK cell activity, in comparison to scid/scid mice, and appear to possess LAK-like effector cells and LAK cell precursors.