The lineage of lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells is poorly understood. To examine the relationship between LAK and natural killer (NK) cells we utilized two congenitally immunodeficient mice, namely severe combined immunodeficient (scid) and athymic (nude) mice that lack T cells but have normal NK cells. LAK activity was evaluated by the ability to lyze NK-resistant P815 cells. When cultured with human recombinant interleukin 2, splenocytes of scid and nude mice could generate LAK activity at levels comparable to or more than those of normal C.B-17 mice. LAK effector cells in these immunodeficient mice as well as normal mice had the phenotype resembling that of NK cells with asialo-GM1 (aGM1) expression. In vivo treatment with anti-aGM1 antiserum completely abolished the induction of LAK activity from splenocytes of normal mice. In contrast, LAK activity in splenocytes of scid and nude mice was still demonstrable even after this treatment, indicating that most LAK precursors in both mice were cells without aGM1 antigen. The aGM1- progenitors for LAK activity, probably in common with NK progenitors, appeared to be more expanded in scid and nude mice than in normal mice. The use of such congenitally immunodeficient mice should be helpful in studying the differentiation step of LAK as well as NK cells from their precursors.