Proteins encoded by members of the Ly-49 gene family are predominantly expressed on murine natural killer (NK) cells. Several members of this gene family have been demonstrated to inhibit NK cell lysis upon recognizing their class I ligands on target cells. In this report, we present data supporting that not all Ly-49 proteins inhibit NK cell function. Our laboratory has generated and characterized a monoclonal antibody (mAb) (12A8) that can be used to recognize the Ly-49D subset of murine NK cells. Transfection of Cos- 7 cells with known members of the Ly-49 gene family revealed that 12A8 recognizes Ly-49D, but also cross-reacts with the Ly-49A protein on B6 NK cells. In addition, 12A8 demonstrates reactivity by both immuno-precipitation and two-color flow cytometry analysis with an NK cell subset that is distinct from those expressing Ly-49a, C, or G2. An Ly-49D+ subset of NK cells that did not express Ly49A, C, and G2 was isolated and examined for their functional capabilities. Tumor targets and concanovalin A (ConA) lymphoblasts from a variety of H2 haplotypes were examined for their susceptibility to lysis by Ly-49D+ NK cells. None of the major histocompatibility complex class I-bearing targets inhibited lysis of Ly-49D+ NK cells. More importantly, we demonstrate that the addition of mAb 12A8 to Ly-49D+ NK cells can augement lysis of FcγR+ target cells in a reverse antibody- dependent cellular cytotoxicity-type assay and induces apoptosis in Ly-49D+ NK cells. Furthermore, the cytoplasmic domain of Ly-49D does not contain the V/Ix-YxxL immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibitory motif found in Ly-49A, C, or G2 that has been characterized in the human p58 killer inhibitory receptors. Therefore, Ly-49D is the first member of the Ly-49 family characterized as transmitting positive signals to NK cells, rather than inhibiting NK cell function.