Natural killer (NK) cells are reported to have an important role in the resistance of lethally irradiated recipients to bone marrow transplantation (BMT). Therefore, we investigated the effects of recipient NK depletion on survival, chimerism, and hematopoietic reconstitution after lethal irradiation and the transplantation of limiting amounts of T-cell-deficient bone marrow (BM). When administered before BMT, anti-asialo GM1 (ASGM1) antiserum treatment, effective in depleting in vivo NK activity, was associated with a marked increase in survival in 3 of 3 allogeneic combinations (BALB/c into C3H/HeN, C57B1/6, or C3B6F1). This enhanced survival was independent of the susceptibility of each recipient strain to accept BALB/c BM. Moreover, recipient anti-ASGM1 treatment was also effective in increasing survival in recipients of syngeneic BM, suggesting that NK cells can adversely affect engraftment independent of genetically controlled polymorphic cell surface determinants. Analysis of chimerism in surviving animals 2 months post-BMT showed that recipient NK depletion significantly increased the level of donor engraftment when high doses of BM were transplanted. These studies also demonstrated that anti-ASGM1 pretreatment mainly resulted in an increase in extramedullary hematopoiesis in the second and third week after irradiation. Anti-ASGM1 treatment also dramatically accelerated the rate of appearance of donor-derived cells with a higher level of donor- cell engraftment apparent at a time when the differences in survival between NK-depleted and control BMT recipients became significant. Peripheral cell counts were also affected by NK depletion, with significantly enhanced platelet and red blood cell recovery and a moderate increase in granulocyte recovery. The overall favorable influence of anti-ASGM1 recipient treatment on hematopoietic events post-BMT suggests that, in humans, pretransplant regimens aimed toward NK depletion should be evaluated.