A 78 residue antimicrobial, basic peptide, NK-lysin, with three intrachain disulfide bonds was purified from pig small intestine and characterized. A corresponding clone was isolated from a porcine bone marrow cDNA library. The 780 bp DNA sequence had a reading frame of 129 amino acids which corresponded to NK-lysin. The clone was used to show that stimulation with human interleukin-2 induced synthesis of NK-lysin-specific mRNA in a lymphocyte fraction enriched for T and NK cells. Lower levels of mRNA were detected in tissues known to contain T and NK cells, such as small intestine, spleen and colon. Interleukin-2 also induced both proliferation of the lymphocyte fraction and cytolytic function in these cells. Immunostaining showed that NK-lysin was present in cells positive for CD8, CD2 and CD4. NK-lysin showed high anti-bacterial activity against Escherichia coli and Bacillus megaterium and moderate activity against Acinetobacter calcoaceticus and Streptococcus pyogenes. The peptide showed a marked lytic activity against an NK-sensitive mouse tumour cell line, YAC-1, but it did not lyse red blood cells. The amino acid sequence of NK-lysin exhibits 33% identity with a putative human preproprotein, NKG5, of unknown function but derived from a cDNA clone of activated NK cells. We suggest that NK-lysin is a new effector molecule of cytotoxic T and NK cells.