Regulatory effect of CD25, an activation antigen the α subunit of interleukin 2 receptor (IL2R) on the activity of natural killer (NK) cells was studied in fifty elderly (57-70 years old) and fifty young people (19-35 years old). Cytotoxic NK activity was assessed by 51Cr release assay, the levels of interleukin 2 (IL2) and tumour necrosis factors α (TNFα) were measured using bioassays and expression of CD16 and CD25 proteins by flow cytometry. Low NK activity in the elderly was associated with decline of full health, lowered serum concentration of IL2 and increased production of TNFα during NK reaction. Inhibition of TNFα activity by anti-TNF monoclonal antibody suppressed exclusively NK activity of low NK responders. Moreover, stimulation in vitro of blood mononuclear cells, with TNFα induced in the elderly low NK responders a significantly higher increase of the CD25 expression on the surface of NK cells as compared with that in the elderly high responders. Since the CD25 molecule constitutes a subunit of the high affinity receptor, binding IL2 to immunocompetent cells, its increased expression on NK cells of low NK responders would enable them to bind even low amounts of the endogenous IL2 available in this group of the elderly. Thus, an overproduction of TNFα seems to be a mechanism compensating, in the non-fully healthy elderly, for the decreased IL2 production, promoting efficient cytotoxic reaction.