The expression and function of CD69, a member of the natural killer cell gene complex family of signal transducing receptors, was investigated on human monocytes. CD69 was found expressed on all peripheral blood monocytes, as a 28- and 32-kD disulfide-linked dimer. Molecular cross-linking of CD69 receptors induced extracellular Ca2+ influx, as revealed by flow cytometry. CD69 cross-linking resulted also in phospholipase A2 activation, as detected by in vivo arachidonic acid release measurement from intact cells and by direct in vitro measurement of enzymatic activity using radiolabeled phosphatidylcholine vesicles. Prostaglandin E 2 alpha, 6-keto-prostaglandin F 1 alpha, and leukotriene B4 were detected by radioimmunoassay in supernatants from CD69-stimulated monocytes, suggesting the activation of both cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase pathways after CD69 stimulation. CD69 cross-linking, moreover, was able to induce strong nitric oxide (NO) production from monocytes, as detected by accumulation of NO oxydixed derivatives, and cyclic GMP. It is important to note that NO generation was responsible for CD69-mediated increase in spontaneous cytotoxicity against L929 murine transformed fibroblast cell line and induction of redirected cytotoxicity towards P815 FcRII+ murine mastocytoma cell line. These data indicate that CD69 can act as a potent stimulatory molecule on the surface of human peripheral blood monocytes.