The aims of this study are to examine the effect of sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) on IL-2-activated natural killer (NK) cell lysis of K562 tumor cells and immature dendritic cells (iDCs), and to investigate the mechanisms involved in S1P activity. Our results show that S1P protected K562 cells or iDCs from NK cell lysis, which was reversed by FTY720 and SEW2871, the antagonists of S1P(1). S1P did not modulate the expression of NKG2D, NKp30, NKp44 or CD158 on the surface of NK cells, and neither affected the expression of CD80, CD83, or CD86 on the surface of DCs. In contrast, it increased the expression of HLA-I and HLA-E on DCs, an activity that was inhibited by FTY720 or SEW2871. Similarly, the inhibitory effect of S1P for NK cell lysis of K562 cells was directed toward S1P(1) expressed on the tumor cells but not on NK cells. Further analysis indicates that NK cells secreted various cytokines and chemokines with various intensities: (1) low (IL-4, IL-6, IL-12, TNF-alpha and MCP-1); (2) intermediate (IL-1beta, IL-10, TGF-beta1, and IL-17A); (3) high (IFN-gamma, and MIP-1alpha); and (4) very high (MIP-1beta). S1P significantly reduced the release of IL-17A and IFN-gamma from NK cells, but this inhibition was S1P(1)-independent. These results indicate that S1P is an anti-inflammatory molecule, and that S1P(1) is important for the interaction among NK cells and tumor cells or DCs leading to up-regulation of HLA-I and HLA-E on the surface of DCs, but not in S1P inhibition of the release of inflammatory cytokines from NK cells. Further, the results suggest that FTY720 and SEW2871 may potentially be used as prophylactic and/or therapeutic drugs to treat cancer patients.