The presence of natural killer cells in human colostrum was disclosed with the use of a fluorochrome-labeled monoclonal antibody HNK-1 (Leu-7) that recognizes cells with natural killer and killer activity. Approximately 0.5% of total colostral cells were stained with this reagent. These cells were separated by the fluorescence-activated cell sorter and examined for their morphology by electron microscopy and for their cytotoxic activity against 51Cr-labeled K562 target cells. Two morphological types of natural killer cells were observed in colostrum: the first was represented by large cells with numerous vacuoles but without dense cytoplasmic granules; the second type, which occurred with lower frequency, resembled the large granular lymphocytes associated with natural killer activity in peripheral blood. The HNK-1-positive cells from colostrum displayed low cytotoxic activity against K562 target cells. Incubation of HNK-1-positive cells from peripheral blood with cell-free colostrum resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of the cytotoxic activity. The functional changes were accompanied by morphological alterations which included degranulation and the formation of numerous vacuoles. The variances in the cytotoxic activity of peripheral blood HNK-1-positive cells suspended in different dilutions of colostrum suggest that this fluid contains humoral factors which modify morphology and function depending on their concentrations. © 1985.