Stimulation of 4-1BB (CD137) was shown to produce strong anticancer effects in vivo. In contrast, 4-1BB-deficient (4-1BB(-/-)) B6 mice are remarkably resistant to tumor growth. We set out to determine the mechanisms involved in these seemingly contradictory observations. We found that the therapeutic effects of 4-1BB triggering were mainly dependent on CD8(+) T cells and partially on NK cells, whereas CD8(+) T and NK cells were equally needed to suppress tumor growth in 4-1BB(-/-) mice. Cellular analysis showed that the frequency and number of NK cells in the spleen and bone marrow were decreased by 4-1BB triggering but were increased in the absence of 4-1BB signaling in tumor-challenged mice. The 4-1BB-mediated downregulation of NK cell development was primarily dependent on IFN-gamma, which was produced by peripheral CD8(+) T and NK cells. The suppression of NK cell development by 4-1BB-mediated IFN-gamma production occurred in the bone marrow. As 4-1BB signaling increased in the periphery, more CD8(+) T cells but fewer NK cells contributed to the antitumor immunity. As 4-1BB signaling decreased, more NK cells participated in the antitumor immunity. We conclude that 4-1BB signaling results in a shift of the dominant type of immune cell in antitumor immunity from the innate NK cell to the adaptive CD8(+) T cell and that the level of IFN-gamma is critical for this 4-1BB-mediated shift.