To elucidate the role of NK cells and TCR gamma delta+ T cells in acute experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) induced in Lewis rats, the distribution, number and function of these cells were studied using several methods. Immunohistochemical and flow cytometric analysis revealed that a certain number of NK cells (17 of the total inflammatory cells) infiltrated the central nervous system (CNS) at the peak stage of EAE and were mainly located in the perivascular region. On the other hand, virtually no TCR gamma delta+ T cells were found in the CNS. NK-T (NKR-P1+TCR alpha beta+) cells were few and did not increase in number in the CNS and lymphoid organs. In the cytotoxic assay using YAC-1 cells, effector cells isolated from the spleen of rats at the peak of EAE showed essentially the same cytotoxicity as those isolated from normal controls although the total number of NK cells decreased to one fifth of that of normal rats. Furthermore, in vivo administration of anti-NK cell (3.2.3 and anti-asialo GM1), but not of anti-TCR gamma delta (V65), antibodies exacerbated the clinical features of EAE and induced fatal EAE in some rats. These findings suggest that NK cells play a suppressive role in acute EAE whereas TCR gamma delta+ T cells are not involved in the development of or recovery from the disease.