We studied HLA class I expression and susceptibility to lysis of activated autologous NK cells in normal and TAP-deficient fibroblasts. These cells were cultured in the presence or absence of cytokines known to increase the surface expression of HLA class I molecules. All the cytokines tested (IFN-alpha, IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma + TNF-alpha) increased the expression of HLA class I molecules on fibroblasts after 48-h culture, but on TAP-deficient cells this expression remained very low as compared to that of normal cells. In the presence of IFN-alpha, IFN-gamma or IFN-gamma + TNF-alpha, normal target cells became resistant to lysis by autologous NK cells, whereas this effect was much less pronounced in the case of TAP-deficient fibroblasts. Addition of an anti-HLA class I mAb to fibroblasts treated with cytokines increased lysis of normal but not of TAP-deficient cells. These results suggest that activated TAP-deficient NK cells are strongly cytotoxic to normal autologous cells and that these cells cannot be efficiently protected by cytokines inducing HLA class I expression. Thus, in human TAP deficiency, activated NK cells may contribute to the progressive lung degradation which characterizes the clinical course of these patients.