The mAb YTA-1, which brightly stains CD3-CD16+ large granular lymphocytes (LGL)/natural killer (NK) cells and CD8+ T cells by immunofluorescence, is specific for leukocyte function-associated antigen (LFA)-1. Some mAbs recognizing the LFA-1 alpha chain (CD11a) or LFA-1 beta chain (CD18) inhibited the binding of YTA-1 to peripheral blood mononuclear cells. YTA-1 mAb could be chemically cross-linked to 170 and 96 kDa molecules, whose molecular weights correspond to those of LFA-1 alpha and beta respectively. YTA-1 bound to COS-7 cells co-transfected with CD11a and CD18 cDNAs, but not to untransfected cells. Reactivities of YTA-1 to K562 cells transfected with LFA-1 alpha and beta (CD11a/CD18) cDNAs and to CHO cells transfected with Mac-1 (CD11b/CD18) or p150, 95 (CD11c/CD18) cDNAs strongly suggest that YTA-1 recognizes either LFA-1 alpha or an epitope formed by a combination of LFA-1 alpha and beta. Treatment of fresh CD3-CD16+ LGL with YTA-1 augmented cytolytic activity and induced proliferation. F(ab')2 fragments of YTA-1 augmented NK cytotoxicity, indicating that the NK activating signal was transmitted through LFA-1 without involvement of Fc gamma receptor III. In contrast, the other mAbs against LFA-1 could not activate NK cells. These results collectively indicate that YTA-1 recognizes a unique epitope of LFA-1, which is involved in activation of fresh NK cells.