Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), also referred to as familial erythrophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, is a rare disorder of infancy associated with proliferation of activated histiocytes and T cells, anemia, thrombocytopenia, and fevers. This disorder appears to be due to the uncontrolled activation of T cells producing IL-2, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and interferon-gamma. Untreated, the disorder is universally fatal. Various deficits in immune function have been described during acute disease activity including impaired T cell function, impaired monocyte-mediated antibody-dependent cytotoxicity, impaired natural killer cell function, and impaired IL-1 production. We examined natural killer cell function in familial HLH patients to determine whether this finding was consistently associated with the disease. We also examined natural killer cell function in asymptomatic parents and siblings of patients. Impaired natural killer cell function was identified in all patients and in some family members, including obligate carrier parents. This implies that one potential genetic defect in HLH may result in depressed natural killer function, but that this may not be sufficient to reliably predict eventual progression to disease.