Human intra-epithelial lymphocytes (IELs) are predominantly T-cell receptor-αβ+ (TCR-αβ+) CD8+ CD45RO+ memory T cells located between intestinal epithelial cells. They respond to a greater extent to stimulation with interleukin (IL)-15 than to CD3/TCR triggering, suggesting that they react to the cytokine milieu in their local environment rather than to cognate antigen. A newly described member of the γc cytokine family, IL-21, has potent antitumor effects. As IELs resemble lymphocytes infiltrating neoplastic lesions, their response to IL-21 may be relevantin vivo.Here, IL-21 was shown to increase perforin-mediated cytotoxicity and serine esterase release by IELs. This IL-21-mediated up-regulation occurred without changes in IEL survival or cell division. Interestingly, the effects of IL-21 occurred without increased phosphorylation of signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT)1, STAT3, STAT4, STAT5, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), or p38. IL-21 had no effect on Fas ligand (FL)- or tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α)-mediated cytotoxicity, but it down-regulated IL-15-stimulated expression of CD25 and CD94, indicating that it has both positive and negative actions. This functional profile is unique to human IELs, emphasizing that they are a distinct compartment of lymphocytes and that IL-21 may promote their role in tumour immunosurveillance.