Spontaneously occurring natural killer cell activity of rhesus monkey peripheral blood mononuclear cells was assayed against five human cell lines, three of which were Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) positive, including the human B cell line Raji. The lytic activity to Raji cells was high, significantly higher than to any other cell line tested. Raji cells are normally insensitive to spontaneous lysis by human NK cells, and the contrasting vigor of the rhesus monkey cytolytic activity to Raji prompted us to investigate the properties of this effector cell. We found the effector cell-mediating lysis of Raji to be nonadherent and phagocytic with lytic activity slightly enhanced in the E-rosette-forming cell (ERFC+) fraction and decreased in the ERFC- fraction. Further isolation of FcIgG receptor-positive and FcIgG receptor-negative subsets by rosetting resulted in significant enrichment of NK activity to Raji in the positive fraction and a loss of activity in the negative fraction. Depletion studies with various monoclonal antibodies (mAb's) confirmed that nearly all lytic activity was contained in the CD16+ (Leu 11b+) population, while subsets of effector cells expressed CD2 (9.6) and CD8 (OKT8). Depletion of CD4 (OKT4)-, HLADR (OKIa)-, or LFA1 (MAC-1)-positive populations failed to reduce NK activity. We compared the phenotypic properties of alloimmune effector cells exhibiting specificity for allogeneic donor targets with those exhibiting lysis of Raji targets. Results indicated that allospecific cytotoxic T lymphocytes expressed a CD16-, CD2+ phenotype, a pattern distinct from that of the effector cell population recognizing Raji targets. The presence of CD2 mAb's in the culture had no effect on NK lytic activity. In contrast, mAbs CD8 and Leu 11b were inhibitory. This would suggest a functional role for CD8 and FcIgG molecules in the lysis of Raji cells by rhesus effectors. In summary, these studies describe a distinct population of effector cells in the blood of rhesus monkeys which exhibit spontaneous lytic activity to Raji cells and exhibit the properties of NK cells.