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Natural killer (NK) cells use killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) that bind to self-class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules to prevent killing of autologous cells. Mismatched allografts, which do not express recipient MHC class I molecules, can therefore be potential targets for NK-cell killing. In our living related-unrelated renal transplantation program, donor-recipient pairs vary in the amount of both HLA and KIR genes they share. This provides us with a unique opportunity to dissect the influence of KIR on NK-cell function after transplantation.Recipient NK cells were used in a cytotoxicity assay against donor peripheral blood mononuclear cells 2 days before, on the day of, and 3 days after transplantation. Results were correlated to HLA-KIR compatibility between donor and recipient.NK killing, in a direct ex vivo setting, was demonstrated to be HLA mismatch dependent. Recipient NK antidonor cytotoxicity was unaltered despite having received 2 days’ treatment with cyclosporine A before transplantation. However, cytotoxicity increased 3 days after transplantation in 71% of recipients. Recipients exhibiting increased NK cytotoxicity against their donors after transplantation were found to possess more activating KIR genes specific for donor class I MHC molecules than those in whom killing activity did not increase (P <0.04).NK cells are activated after transplantation despite quadruple immunosuppression, suggesting that recipient NK-cell cytotoxicity against the donor may be a previously unrecognized area of the rejection process, especially in poorly matched donor-recipient pairs where the recipient may not express the correct repertoire of inhibitory receptors to prevent killing of donor cells.