The in vitro effect of IgA on natural killer (NK) activities of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells was investigated. Purified myeloma polymeric IgA2 (pIgA2) and secretory IgA (S-IgA) from human colostrum inhibited NK activity, while myeloma polymeric IgA 1 (pIgA 1), monomeric IgA1 (mIgA1), IgG, and IgM were ineffective. Inhibition was proportional to the concentration of pIgA2 (0.125-1 mg/ml) and was observed after as little as 1 hr of incubation at various effector to K562 target cell ratios. pIgA2 and S-IgA also inhibited NK activity of NK cell-enriched lymphoid cells and γ-interferon-treated effector cells, but did not interfere with effector-target cell binding. The inhibitory effect was slightly diminished after 24 hr culture in pIgA2-free medium. Inhibition of cytotoxicity was not due to direct toxicity on lymphoid cells by IgA because PBL treated with pokeweed mitogen in the presence of pIgA2 or S-IgA differentiated into immunoglobulin-producing cells. Viability after 24 hr of preculture with pIgA2 and S-IgA was comparable to that of untreated control cells. Morphological examination of effector cells cultured with pIgA2 or S-IgA showed a decrease in the number of granules, and the formation of cytoplasmic vacuoles. These morphological changes appeared to coincide with the depressed cytotoxicity of NK cells. The results demonstrate that purified pIgA2 and S-IgA have significant immunodulatory effects on human NK activity. © 1986.