Natural killer (NK) cells exist as subsets based on expression of inhibitory receptors that recognize major histocompatibility complex I (MHCI) molecules. NK cell subsets bearing MHCI binding receptors for self-MHCI have been termed as "licensed" and exhibit a higher ability to respond to stimuli. In the context of bone marrow transplantation (BMT), host licensed-NK (L-NK) cells have also been demonstrated to be responsible for the acute rejection of allogeneic and MHCI-deficient BM cells (BMCs) in mice after lethal irradiation. However, the role of recipient unlicensed-NK (U-NK) cells has not been well established with regard to allogeneic BMC resistance. After NK cell stimulation, the prior depletion of host L-NK cells resulted in a marked increase of donor engraftment compared with the untreated group. Surprisingly, this increased donor engraftment was reduced after total host NK cell depletion, indicating that U-NK cells can actually promote donor allogeneic BMC engraftment. Furthermore, direct coculture of U-NK cells with allogeneic but not syngeneic BMCs resulted in increased colony-forming unit cell growth in vitro, which was at least partially mediated by granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) production. These data demonstrate that host NK cell subsets exert markedly different roles in allogeneic BMC engraftment where host L- and U-NK cells reject or promote donor allogeneic BMC engraftment, respectively.