We studied natural killer (NK) cell activity and numbers in the peripheral blood obtained from patients with Behçet's disease (BD) in inactive and convalescent stage, and from healthy controls. Ratios of helper/suppressor cells (OKT4/OKT8) were below 1.0 in patients with active stage and were normal in the convalescent stage of BD. A relative increase of OKT8+ cells and at the same time of Leu 7+ cells was obtained in the active and convalescent BD stages. Double marker analysis revealed that the sub-population of cells expressing both the T8+ and the Leu 7+ antigen (T8+/Leu 7+) was increased in patients with active stage, and normal in the convalescent stage. The frequency of cells reactive with Leu 11 monoclonal antibody (active NK cells) was evaluated in patients with BD. Data from peripheral blood showed an increased sub-population of T8+/Leu 7+ double marker cells, and a decreased Leu 11+ cell sub-population in patients with active BD, but the majority of Leu 7+ cells in patients with convalescent stage lacked OKT8 antigen when investigated in a double marker system. A parallel increase of Leu 11+ cells was observed in the convalescent stage. This phenotypic analysis was carried out with the NK in vitro functional evaluation of cell populations from peripheral blood. NK cell activity in the clinically active stage of BD was significantly lower than that of healthy controls and patients in the convalescent stage. The decrease of peripheral blood NK function in patients with active BD may be related to the presence of immature forms of NK cells and/or to the increased percentage of T8+/Leu 7+ cells.