Natural killer (NK) cells lyse autologous and allogeneic target cells even in the absence of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I antigens on the target cells. Recently, however, human allospecific NK cell clones have been generated that recognize at least five distinct specificities inherited recessively and controlled by genes linked to the MHC. Because the genetic specificity of these alloreactive NK cells in vitro appears analogous to that of in vivo NK cell-mediated murine hybrid resistance, i.e., the rejection of parental bone marrow in irradiated F1 animals, we tested the ability of human alloreactive NK clones to recognize allogeneic hematopoietic progenitor cells. NK cells from two specificity 1 alloreactive NK clones, ES9 and ES10, significantly and often completely suppressed colony formation by purified peripheral blood hematopoietic progenitor cells from specificity 1-susceptible donors, but had no significant effect on the cells of specificity 1-resistant donors. Activated polyclonal NK cells were less efficient than the NK clones in inhibiting colony formation and had a similar effect on cells from both specificity 1-susceptible and -resistant donors. The alloreactive NK clones produced cytokines with a suppressive effect on in vitro hematopoiesis, such as interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), when exposed to phytohemagglutinin blasts from specificity 1-susceptible, but not -resistant donors. However, the mechanism by which alloreactive NK cells inhibit colony formation is more consistent with a direct cytotoxic effect than with the production of inhibitory cytokines because antibodies (anti-IFN-gamma, alpha-TNF-alpha, and -lymphotoxin) that completely blocked the inhibition by polyclonal NK cells had only a minimal effect on the inhibition by the alloreactive clones. Moreover, the alloreactive clones were directly cytolytic in a 51Cr release assay against enriched preparations of peripheral blood progenitor cells from specificity 1-susceptible donors. These data indicate that the alloreactive NK cells are likely the human counterpart of the cells mediating murine hybrid resistance and that these cells might play clinically important roles in rejection or in graft-versus-leukemia reactions after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation.