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Activation of human natural killer (NK) cells involves sequential events including cytokine production and induction of cell surface molecules, resulting in the enhancement of cytolytic activity. To delineate the activation process of NK cells, we generated murine monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against YT, a human large granular lymphocyte/natural killer (LGL/NK) cell line. Among the mAbs reactive with YT cells, one mAb, termed 2B9, was noted because of the lack of reactivity with most of the human T- and B-cell lines tested. In fresh peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), however, the majority of cells expressing this antigen (Ag) were T cells but not CD16+ nor CD56+ NK cells. Since YT cells showed an activated phenotype expressing interleukin-2 (IL-2) receptor α chain, we examined whether 2B9 Ag could be induced on normal human peripheral blood NK cells by cytokines known to activate NK cells. The 2B9 Ag was induced on NK cells by IL-2, IL-12 or IL-15 while no induction was observed by interferon-γ (IFN-γ). Biochemical analysis showed that anti-2B9 mAb recognized a 115 kDa molecule in YT cells. A cDNA clone encoding the 2B9 Ag was isolated from a cDNA expression library of YT cells and its sequence was identical to CD26 cDNA although it was not of full length. Transient expression of the 2B9 cDNA on COS-7 cells revealed that this cDNA encodes the antigenic epitope(s) recognized by anti-2B9 mAb as well as Ta1, an anti-CD26 mAb. These results showed that the 2B9 Ag is identical to CD26, and demonstrated that CD26 is an activation antigen on CD16+ CD56+ NK cells inducible by IL-2, IL-12 or IL-15.