We have previously shown that rat allo-selective cells of the CD2+CD5- phenotype were generated in Brown Norway (BN) rats after immunization with allogeneic Wistar/Furth (WF) cells, whereas immunization with semi-allogeneic F1 (WF/BN) cells generated CD2+CD5+ effector T cells. We now report that the allo-selective CD2+CD5- lymphocytes lacked expression of intact CD3 complexes and expressed NKR-P1 molecules although lower as compared to classical NK cells, implicating that these lymphocytes constitute a subset of NK cells. The CD5+ T cells were not cytolytically active in BN rats immunized with WF cells indicating an intersubset regulation with mutually exclusive activation of either allo-selective T cells or allo-selective NK cells. Cold target inhibition showed that lysis of both allogeneic target cells and NK-sensitive target cells was mediated by the same NKR-P1 intermediate effector cells. These NK cells lysed WF but not allogeneic Fischer 344 or autologous BN target cells, indicating selective recognition of an allogeneic determinant. Semiallogeneic F1 (WF/BN) target cells were not lysed. Furthermore, target cells from F1 (WF/BN) x WF back-cross hybrids lacking expression of RT1n (self-MHC class I) were susceptible to lysis, whereas back-cross hybrids expressing RT1n were protected from lysis, indicating that self-MHC molecules conferred protection from lysis. These findings implicate the existence of NKR-P1intermediate and NKR-P1high NK cell subsets with different regulation and function in vivo.