Recent evidence, has demonstrated an association between a subpopulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells, morphologically identified as large granular lymphocytes (LGL), and natural killer (NK) activity. We have now evaluated more directly the role of LGL in both NK activity and antibody- dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC), by using highly enriched populations of LGL, obtained by centrifugation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells on Percoll discontinuous density gradients. Both spontaneous and interferon- augmented NK and ADCC activities were exclusively associated with the LGL- enriched, low density fractions. The majority of LGL formed conjugates with NK-susceptible and antibody-coated target cells. Approximately 20 percent of small conventional lymphocytes also formed conjugates with the target cells for NK, but this was not associated with cytotoxic activity. Virtually all LGL were found to have receptors for the Fc portion of IgG (FcγR). The frequency of LGL among blood leukocytes was 2-6 percent. LGL could be enriched to an average purity of 95 percent by combining discontinuous density gradient centrifugation with subsequent adsorptions of the low density fractions on monolayers of immobilized immune complexes. About 50 percent of LGL were found to be FcγR-bearing T cells (T(G)), forming low affinity rosettes with sheep erythrocytes at 4 degrees C. Only 10-20 percent of LGL formed high affinity rosettes with sheep erythrocytes at 29 degrees C. LGL could be enriched to a purity of more than 90 percent by depleting high affinity rosette-forming cells from low density Percoll fractions. LGL were only a subpopulation of T(G) cells, because some lymphocytes with conventional morphology also adhered to the immobilized immune complex monolayers and formed high affinity rosettes with sheep erythrocytes. Separation of these cells from LGL by discontinuous density gradient centrifugation indicated that they are not cytotoxic, suggesting a morphological and functional subdivision of T(G) cells. The verification in this study that virtually all human NK and K cells have a characteristic morphology adds a useful parameter to the monitoring of human lymphocytes, and the ability to purify these cells by simple physical procedures should be invaluable in their further characterization.