Natural killer (NK) cells are classically viewed as lymphocytes that provide innate surveillance against virally infected cells and tumour cells through the release of cytolytic mediators and interferon (IFN)-gamma. In humans, blood CD56(dim) NK cells specialize in the lysis of cell targets. In the lymph nodes, CD56(bright) NK cells secrete IFN-gamma cooperating with dendritic cells and T cells in the generation of adaptive responses. Here we report the characterization of a human NK cell subset located in mucosa-associated lymphoid tissues, such as tonsils and Peyer's patches, which is hard-wired to secrete interleukin (IL)-22, IL-26 and leukaemia inhibitory factor. These NK cells, which we refer to as NK-22 cells, are triggered by acute exposure to IL-23. In vitro, NK-22-secreted cytokines stimulate epithelial cells to secrete IL-10, proliferate and express a variety of mitogenic and anti-apoptotic molecules. NK-22 cells are also found in mouse mucosa-associated lymphoid tissues and appear in the small intestine lamina propria during bacterial infection, suggesting that NK-22 cells provide an innate source of IL-22 that may help constrain inflammation and protect mucosal sites.