Natural killer (NK) cells have not previously been precisely identified or characterized in cattle or any other ruminant species. We have generated a monoclonal antibody against bovine NKp46, which is expressed exclusively by NK cells in man. NKp46+ cells comprised 1–10% of blood mononuclear cells in cattle, and did not stain with antibodies against CD3, CD4, TCR1, B cell or granulocyte markers. The majority of the NKp46+ cells expressed CD2, and a variable fraction also expressed CD8. The tissue distribution of NKp46+ cells in cattle was compatible with the tissue distribution of NK cells in other species. Bovine NKp46+ cells had typical, large granular lymphocyte morphology, and proliferated vigorously in response to bovine IL-2 for a limited number of cell divisions. IL-2-activated NKp46+ cells killed the bovine kidney cell line MDBK. This cytotoxicity was inhibited by preincubation with antibody against NKp46. In a redirected lysis assay, IL-2-activated NKp46+ cells killed the FcγR+ target cell line P815 after preincubation with antibody against NKp46. Together, these data indicate that bovine NKp46 is anactivating receptor and demonstrate the existence of a subset of leukocytes in cattle that, in terms of surface markers, morphology and function, represent NK cells.