We previously isolated a series of cDNA clones designated NKG2-A, B, C, and D from a human natural killer (NK) cell library. These transcripts encode a family of type II integral membrane proteins having an extracellular Ca(2+)-dependent lectin domain. The predicted peptides share structural similarities and amino acid sequence similarity with known receptor molecules. In this report, the genomic organization and mRNA expression of each of the genes were studied by using transcript-specific probes. Southern blot experiments reveal that the probes cross-hybridize with a maximum of five genes at high stringency. By probing a Southern blot prepared from a series of hamster/human hybrid somatic cell lines, we demonstrated that all of the hybridizing fragments occur on human chromosome 12. No gene rearrangement and little restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) was observed with these probes. mRNA expression of the NKG2 genes occurred in NK cells and some T cells but not in other hematopoietic cell types or in other tissues tested. Each of the transcripts occurred in all three of the NK cell lines tested: however, the genes were differentially regulated in T cells. NKG2-D was expressed in nine of fourteen T-cell clones or lines in the panel, whereas NKG2-A/B was expressed in three and NKG2-C was expressed in only one. Expression of each of the transcripts was upregulated following T-cell growth factor (TCGF)-induced activation of a cloned NK cell. The limited distribution of these proteins and their sequence similarity with known receptor molecules suggest that they may function as receptors on human NK cells.