A variant nonkiller (K-) T-cell clone derived from the MHC nonrestricted killer (K+) cell line TALL-103/2 (CD3/TCR gamma delta +) was studied to determine whether its lytic defects were at the tumor-binding or post-binding level. The two TALL-103/2 clones were found to display similar mRNA expression of TCR/CD3 complex epsilon, zeta, gamma, and delta chains, and the same mRNA and protein levels of SRC-like protein tyrosine kinase and kinase activity. However, the K- cells express much less surface CD45 RA and contain smaller intracytoplasmatic cytotoxic granules with a lower expression of the TIA-1 protein. Although the K- cells do not undergo granule exocytosis upon contact with a susceptible (K562) target, they can be triggered to degranulate and display redirected killing by activation of the CD3 receptor. Moreover, OKT3 induces PPI turnover and Ca2+ mobilization in both the K+ and K- cells, whereas K562 cells induces PPI turnover only in the K+ clone. The overall data indicate that, although the K- cells have significant post-binding defects that prevent them from killing MHC nonrestricted targets, they can fully utilize their lytic machinery upon specific activation of the CD3 pathway.