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BACKGROUND: Controversy exists as to whether natural killer (NK)1.1+ cells additionally support cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) generation. We have previously demonstrated that mice generate a strong in vitro xenospecific CTL response in local popliteal lymph nodes (LN) to footpad immunizations with large numbers of human tumor cells. METHODS: In vivo depletion of various LN subsets using cytotoxic monoclonal antibodies was used to determine their relative importance in stimulating xenospecific CD8+ CTL responses to human Jurkat tumor cells. Depletion of functional NK cells in vivo was evidenced by the relative lack of NK1.1+ cells and NK activity in the spleens and LN of anti-NK1.1 monoclonal antibody-treated mice. CONCLUSION: Depletion of LN subsets indicated that CD4+ T cells were critical in generating an effective xenospecific CD8+ CTL response, but also suggested that NK1.1+ cells play a significant additional accessory role in the development of mouse anti-human xenospecific CTL.