Natural killer (NK) cells are large granular lymphocytes that constitutively express functional IL-2 receptors. We have shown that recombinant human IL-15 uses the IL-2 receptor to activate human NK cells and can synergize with recombinant human IL-12 to stimulate NK cell production of IFN-gamma in vitro. IFN-gamma production by NK cells is critical in the prevention of overwhelming infection by obligate intracellular microbial pathogens in several experimental animal models. Herein, we demonstrate that human monocytes produce IL-15 protein within 5 h of activation with LPS. Using an IL-15-neutralizing antiserum in a coculture of LPS-activated monocytes and NK cells, we demonstrate that monocyte-derived IL-15 is critical for optimal NK cell production of IFN-gamma. Endogenous IL-15 activates NK cells through the IL-2 receptor, and with endogenous IL-12, regulates NK cell IFN-gamma after monocyte activation by LPS. These in vitro studies are the first to characterize a function for endogenous IL-15, and as such, suggest an important role for IL-15 during the innate immune response. IL-15 may be an important ligand for the NK cell IL-2 receptor in vivo.