The effect of zinc on mouse natural killer (NK) cell activity was evaluated. The inhibition of NK cell activity with zinc was dependent on the concentration of zinc added (range tested: 0-40 micrograms zinc/ml) and occurred at both effector-to-target ratios tested. Zinc-induced inhibition of NK activity was observed with the use of peritoneal or splenic effector cells on Toxoplasma gondii-augmented NK activity. Maximal inhibition of activity was noted when zinc was present for the entire assay period. Inhibition was present but less marked with pretreatment of effector cells with zinc. Pretreatment of target cells with zinc had no measurable effect on NK cytotoxicity. Effector-to-target cell binding as measured by single-cell assays was not significantly altered by zinc. These results indicate that zinc is a potent inhibitor of NK activity.