The in vitro effect of X-ray irradiation on the human natural killer (NK) system was studied. When K562 cells were irradiated with X-rays and cultured for 18 hours, they showed increased sensitivity to lysis by blood lymphocytes and purified large granular lymphocytes (LGL). The X-ray-induced augmentation was observed as little as 2 Gy irradiation, reaching maximum at 5 to 20 Gy. The doses of X-rays did not influence the viability and spontaneous release of the target cells. On the other hand, irradiation with X-rays of NK cells at 5 to 15 Gy resulted in a transient increase in NK activity at 1 hour, and then the activity declined and was completely lost after 24 hours. However, when LGL were cultured with interferon immediately after irradiation, they maintained elevated NK activity. These results suggest the possible use of low doses of X-ray irradiation in combination with biological response modifiers for treatment of cancer.