Single-stranded oligodeoxynucleotides (ODNs) were tested for their ability to stimulate NK cells isolated from murine spleens to lyse target cells. Various sequences were evaluated, some of which have been shown previously to exhibit pharmacologic activity in murine model systems. It was confirmed that the CpG motif was stimulatory only in specific sequence contexts, and we found that phosphorothioate backbones were, in general, less stimulatory than phosphodiester backbones. In addition, this stimulation could be reduced by methylating the cytosine of the CpG and eliminated by modifying all of the cytosines contained in an ODN with methyl, bromo, or iodo modifications to the 5 position of the cytosine ring. These results were compared with the ability of a subset of these ODN sequences to stimulate B cell proliferation in vitro. In this comparison, phosphorothioate backbones were found to be required, and the context of the CpG motif was found to be less critical for activation. Finally, one of the most potent ODNs was shown to activate NK and B lymphocytes when administered in vivo.