IL-2 potentiates both growth and cytotoxic function of T lymphocytes and NK cells. Resting peripheral blood NK cells can respond directly to rIL-2, without requirement for accessory cells or cofactors, and enhanced cytotoxicity can be measured within a few hours after exposure to this lymphokine. In this study, we describe an activation antigen, Leu-23, that is rapidly induced and phosphorylated after IL-2 stimulation of NK cells and a subset of low buoyant density T lymphocytes. Previously, it has been uncertain whether all NK cells or only a subset are responsive to IL-2. Since within 18 h after exposure to IL-2, essentially all NK cells express Leu-23, these findings indicate that all peripheral blood NK cells are responsive to stimulation by IL-2. The Leu-23 antigen is a disulfide-bonded homodimer, composed of 24-kD protein subunits with two N-linked oligosaccharides. Appearance of this glycoprotein on NK cells is IL-2 dependent and closely parallels IL-2-induced cytotoxicity against NK-resistant solid tumor cell targets.