Natural killer (NK) cells can alter the outcome of hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) if donor alloreactivity targets the recipient. Since most NK cells express inhibitory killer-immunoglobulin receptors (KIRs), we hypothesized that the susceptibility of recipient cells to donor NK cell-mediated lysis is genetically pre-determined by the absence of known KIR ligands. We analyzed data from 2062 patients undergoing unrelated donor HCT for acute myeloid leukemia (AML; n = 556), chronic myeloid leukemia (CML; n = 1224), and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS; n = 282). Missing 1 or more KIR ligands versus the presence of all ligands protected against relapse in patients with early myeloid leukemia (relative risk [RR] = 0.54; n = 536, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.30-0.95, P = .03). In the subset of CML patients that received a transplant beyond 1 year from diagnosis (n = 479), missing a KIR ligand independently predicted a greater risk of developing grade 3-4 acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD; RR = 1.58, 95% CI 1.13-2.22; P = .008). These data support a genetically determined role for NK cells following unrelated HCT in myeloid leukemia.