Mice homozygous for a beta 2-microglobulin (beta 2-m) gene disruption lack beta 2-m protein and are deficient for functional major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC-I) molecules. The mutant mice have normal numbers of CD4+8- T helper cells, but lack MHC-I-directed CD4-8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). In this study we used the beta 2-m mutant mice to study the importance of MHC-I-directed immunity in skin graft rejection. Our results indicate that MHC-I-directed CD8+ CTLs are not essential in the rejection of allografts with whole MHC or multiple minor H differences. However, the absence of MHC-I-guided immunity profoundly reduces the ability of mutant mice to reject H-Y disparate grafts. In addition, we show that natural killer cells which vigorously reject MHC-I-deficient bone marrow grafts, are not effective in the destruction of MHC-I-deficient skin grafts.