In this report we have investigated the role of the Ets-1 transcription factor in the differentiation of the NK cell lineage in mice. Splenic NK cells express high levels of Ets-1. Ets-1-deficient mice produced by gene targeting developed mature erythrocytes, monocytes, neutrophils, and T and B lymphocytes. However, spleens from the Ets-1-deficient mice contained significantly reduced numbers of natural killer (NK) cells, and splenocytes from these mice lacked detectable cytolytic activity against NK cell targets in vitro. Moreover, unlike wild-type animals, Ets-1-deficient mice developed tumors following subcutaneous injection of NK-susceptible RMA-S cells. These NK cell defects could not be correlated with defects in the expression of IL-12, IL-15, and IL-18 or the IL-2 or IL-15 receptors. Thus, Ets-1 defines a novel transcriptional pathway that is required for the development of the NK cell lineage in mice.