Augmentation of natural killer (NK) activity by influenza A/PC and HSV-1 viruses appears to be caused by the induction of interferon (IFN) within the NK cell population itself. These viruses induced high levels of IFN production by human large granular lymphocytes (LGL) that could be readily isolated from peripheral blood by Percoll density gradients. These LGL, which have been previously shown to account for and to be highly associated with endogenous NK activity, became augmented in their lytic function during the 18-h period that IFN was induced. Non-LGL helper cells did not appear to be required in the NK-IFN system (either T cells, B cells, or monocytes). Removal of these latter cell types by treatment with OKT3 plus complement, anti-IgM plus complement, or preincubation with silica or carrageenan had no effect on the ability of LGL to respond to the viruses. Production of IFN was also detected, albeit at lower levels, from monocytes cultured for 18 h with viruses, but no cytotoxic activity was induced. On the other hand, T cells, even in the presence of monocytes, showed neither property, and longer cultures, with virus up to 4 d, still did not alter the pattern. The IFN produced by both LGL and monocytes were predominantly IFN-alpha, as assessed by neutralization assays with antisera to IFN-alpha, -beta, and -gamma. In an individual with detectable serum antibodies to influenza A/PC, however, the IFN induced in LGL appeared to be gamma, presumably because of specific recognition of the virus. These data suggest an efficient positive self-regulatory mechanism in NK cells that may be readily switched on by viruses.