Immunotherapy with allogeneic natural killer (NK) cells offers therapeutic perspectives for multiple myeloma patients. Here, we aimed to refine NK cell therapy by evaluation of the relevance of HLA-class I and HLA-E for NK anti-myeloma reactivity. We show that HLA-class I was strongly expressed on the surface of patient-derived myeloma cells and on myeloma cell lines. HLA-E was highly expressed by primary myeloma cells but only marginally by cell lines. HLA-E(low) expression on U266 cells observed in vitro was strongly upregulated after in vivo (bone marrow) growth in RAG-2(-/-) γc(-/-) mice, suggesting that in vitro HLA-E levels poorly predict the in vivo situation. Concurrent analysis of inhibitory receptors (KIR2DL1, KIR2DL2/3, KIR3DL1 and NKG2A) and NK cell degranulation upon co-culture with myeloma cells revealed that KIR-ligand-mismatched NK cells degranulate more than matched subsets and that HLA-E abrogates degranulation of NKG2A+ subsets. Inhibition by HLA-class I and HLA-E was also observed with IL-2-activated NK cells and at low oxygen levels (0.6 %) mimicking hypoxic bone marrow niches where myeloma cells preferentially reside. Our study demonstrates that NKG2A-negative, KIR-ligand-mismatched NK cells are the most potent subset for clinical application. We envision that infusion of high numbers of this subclass will enhance clinical efficacy.