Lymphoid cells with natural killer (NK)-like function, morphology, and antigenic phenotype have been identified in a mixed lymphocyte culture generated by co-culture of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells with an allogeneic human B lymphoblastoid cell line CCRF-SB. The majority of these mixed lymphocyte (MLR)-response activated NK cells express the Leu-11 surface antigen, but do not express certain T cell-associated antigens (Leu-1, Leu-3, and Leu-4) or the mature monocyte specific antigen, Leu-M3. Unlike most freshly isolated Leu-11+ human NK cells, the MLR-activated Leu-11+ cells expressed class II major histocompatibility antigens, DR and DC. Concomitant with expression of class II gene products, the Leu-11+,DR+ NK cells demonstrate enhanced cytotoxicity against the NK-sensitive tumor cell line K562. The presence of mitotic cells in the Leu-11+,DR+ population and the acquisition of increased levels of transferrin receptor on the cell surface were further indicators of activation of these cells. The direct precursors of the MLR-activated Leu-11+,DR+ cell were Leu-11+ cells that lacked expression of another NK-associated antigen Leu-7, i.e., Leu-7-,11+. These studies provided a definitive identification of the "NK-like" cell in MLR cultures and thus allow quantitation and isolation of these cells for further study.