Alpha-mannosidase was tested for its ability to inhibit lytic activity of nonadherent, mononuclear peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) against K-562 target cells. Pretreatment of effector cells (60 min., 37 degrees C, pH 7.3) with this enzyme, prior to and after exhaustive dialysis, was examined. Nondialyzed enzyme preparations completely inhibited NK lytic function at all concentrations tested (1.0, 0.5, and 0.25 units/ml). On the other hand, dialyzed enzyme preparations had no inhibitory effect on NK lytic function over the same range of concentrations. The inhibitory effects of the nondialyzed enzyme were due to the presence of (NH4)2SO4, which could be removed by dialysis. Studies were also performed to determine whether enzyme treatment of effector cells resulted in hexose release from cell surface structures. Treatment of effector cells with alpha-mannosidase (dialyzed preparation) resulted in a dose dependent release of mannose. These data demonstrate that NK cell lytic function is not inhibited by pretreatment of effector cells with alpha-mannosidase even though mannose is quantitatively released from cell surface oligosaccharide structures. These results suggest that NK lytic function does not involve an effector cell surface structure bearing terminal alpha-linked mannose residues as previously reported.