Infection with varicella-zoster virus (VZV) rendered RAJI cells more susceptible to lysis by non-adherent blood lymphocytes. At an effector to target ratio of 80:1 the mean percentage of 51Cr release of VZV-infected RAJI cells was 41 ± 12%, whereas that of uninfected RAJI cells was 15 ± 6%. The increase susceptibility to lysis was associated with increased effector to target conjugate formation in immunofluorescence binding assays. The effector cells cytotoxic for VZV-infected RAJI cells were predominantly Leu-11a+ Leu-4- granular lymphocytes as demonstrated by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. The effector cell active against VZV-infected RAJI cells appeared similar to those active against herpes simplex virus (HSV)-infected cells, because in cold target competition experiments the lysis of 51Cr-labeled VZV-infected RAJI cells was efficiently inhibited by either unlabeled VZV-infected RAJI cells (mean 71% inhibition, 2:1 ratio unlabeled to labeled target) or HSV-infected RAJI cells (mean 69% inhibition) but not by uninfected RAJI cells (mean 10% inhibition). In contrast, competition experiments revealed donor heterogeneity in the overlap between effector cells for VZV- or HSV-infected RAJI vs K-562 cells.