Human thymocytes cultured in the presence of IL-2 and an irradiated B cell line became cytotoxic to K562 target cells. Thymocytes cultured alone or with only IL-2 exhibited almost no killing, but thymocytes cultured in the presence of stimulator cells alone exhibited low levels of cytotoxic activity. Removal of Fc gamma receptor-bearing cells from the activated thymocyte population almost completely abolished the binding and lytic activity. Separation of thymocytes into Fc microns+ and Fc microns-cells before culturing with IL-2 and stimulator cells revealed that only the Fc microns+ subpopulation developed into K562 killer cells. These findings indicate that modulation of Fc microns to Fc gamma receptors on the thymocyte cell surface is part of the maturation process of this particular subset of cytotoxic cells. Morphologically, most of the activated Fc gamma+ K562-binding cells were large, granulated lymphocytes. Only very few of the round, nongranulated small thymocytes were bound to K562 target cells.