In vitro exposure of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) to ultraviolet B (uvB) radiation has been shown to inhibit natural killer (NK) cell-mediated cytotoxicity in a dosedependent fashion. The purpose of this study was to examine the manner by which uvB produced these deleterious effects. Inhibition of NK activity was not due to lethal injury to NK cells since the viability of cell populations enriched for NK activity was greater than 90% with the uvB doses employed. uvB appeared to directly affect NK cells since procedures which removed suppressor mechanisms, such as removal of monocytes and pharmacologic inhibition of the cyclooxygenase pathway, failed to reverse the response. Furthermore, no suppression of activity of unirradiated NK cells could be produced by coincubation of unirradiated NK cells with uvirradiated NK cells. When the single cell assay for binding and killing was employed to determine at which stage in the lytic sequence inhibition occurred, it was found that binding was normal but lysis of bound targets and the recycling capacity of active NK cells were markedly reduced. At uvB doses above 50 J/m2, both interferon α (IFN-α) and interleukin 2 (IL-2) were ineffective in augmenting NK cell-mediated cytotoxic reactions after cells had been irradiated with uvB. Furthermore, incubation of NK cells with IFN-α prior to irradiation failed to protect against the inhibitory effects. These studies provide evidence that in vitro exposure of NK cells to uvB radiation inhibits their function by a direct nonlethal effect and that this inhibition occurs selectively at the postbinding stage of target cell lysis. © 1987.