Gut thymo-dependent (CD8 alpha + beta + or CD4+) or -independent (CD8 alpha + beta -) intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) mediate cytotoxicity following T cell receptor (TCR)-CD3 signaling, but only TCR gamma delta + and alpha beta + thymo-independent IEL show cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) and antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity types. Moreover, TCR alpha beta + and gamma delta + thymo-independent IEL express NK receptors, and may therefore be referred to as NK-TIEL. NK-TIEL cytotoxicity is mediated through perforin, Fas, or both pathways. In contrast to that of other NK cells, this cytotoxicity is not negatively regulated by signals delivered through the recognition of major histocompatibility complex class I molecules. Thus, gut IEL include T cell subsets with unique specificities and functions, ontogenically distinct from other T cell lineages, which may increase the antigenic repertoire diversity of the immune system participating in the defense of the epithelial barrier.