The development of insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) and diabetes in the diabetes prone (DP) BB rat animal model of IDDM is thought to be due to an autoimmune process. Natural killer (NK) cells have been implicated but not proven to play a pathogenetic role in BB rats due to the increased NK cell number and activity found in these animals. We have recently reported that poly I:C, an inducer of cytokines and a potent enhancer of NK cell function, accelerates the development of diabetes in DP BB rats and induces diabetes in diabetes resistant (DR) BB rats. Since we have further demonstrated that poly I:C administration to BB rats increases NK cell number and levels of inducers of NK cell activity, interferon-alpha and IL-6 which is described therein, we tested the hypothesis that NK cell activity plays an important role in poly I:C accelerated disease. The role of NK cells in poly I:C accelerated diabetes and spontaneous diabetes was examined by determining whether selective depletion of NK cells using a rat NK cell specific antibody (anti-NKR-P1 antibody) alters the development of diabetes. The treatment of BB rats with anti-NKR-P1 antibody resulted in a significantly lower mean NK cell activity of splenic mononuclear cells than that found in control animals. However, the development of diabetes and degree of insulitis was not significantly different between treatment groups. BB rats administered anti-NKR-P1 antibody with poly I:C had a lower mean splenocyte NK cell activity and lower mean NK cell number within the peripheral blood and inflamed islets than rats administered poly I:C alone. However, anti-NKR-P1 antibody administration did not alter the accelerated development of diabetes or the degree of insulitis in poly I:C treated animals. These data document that NK cells do not play a major role in the pathogenesis of poly I:C accelerated diabetes or spontaneous diabetes in the DP BB rat.