Early-thymectomized (Tx) Xenopus frogs, which are permanently deficient in T cells, are used as a model sytem for the characterization of novel monoclonal antibodies (mAb) which identify candidate NK cells at the amphibian level of evolution. Hybridomas, generated from mice immunized with splenocytes from Tx Xenopus following B cell and thrombocyte depletion, were screened by flow cytometry. Three mAb (1F8, 4D4 and 1G5) were identified that stained increased proportions of splenocytes from Tx compared with control frogs. These mAb identified lymphoid populations from Xenopus spleen, liver and gut which, after 48 h culture in growth factor-rich medium, exhibited spontanous killing of MHC-deficient allotumor targets. mAb-defined splenocytes also rapidly induced apoptosis of such tumor targets. Dual color analysis confirmed that NK cells are neither T nor B cells. Cytospins of splenocytes isolated with anti-NK mAb revealed large lymphoid cells with distinct pseudopodia. Immunohistology indicated each anti-NK mAb routinely labeled cells within the gut epithelium but NK cells were difficult to visualize in spleen sections. Western blotting of spleen, liver and intestinal lysates subjected to sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis showed that 1G5 reacted strongly with protein bands of ∼ 70 – 85 kDa, whereas mAb 1F8 and 4D4 stained less intensely, but identified similar protein bands.