Strains of the Burkholderia cepacia complex have emerged as a serious threat to patients with cystic fibrosis due to their ability to infect the lung and cause, in some patients, a necrotizing pneumonia that is often lethal. It has recently been shown that several strains of the B. cepacia complex can escape intracellular killing by free-living amoebae following phagocytosis. In this work, the ability of two B. cepacia complex strains to resist killing by macrophages was explored. Using fluorescence microscopy, electron microscopy and a modified version of the gentamicin-protection assay, we demonstrate that B. cepacia CEP021 (genomovar VI), and Burkholderia vietnamiensis (previously B. cepacia genomovar V) CEP040 can survive in PU5-1.8 murine macrophages for a period of at least 5 d without significant bacterial replication. Furthermore, bacterial entry into macrophages stimulated production of tumour necrosis factor and primed them to release toxic oxygen radicals following treatment with phorbol myristoyl acetate. These effects were probably caused by bacterial LPS, as they were blocked by polymyxin B. Infected macrophages primed with interferon gamma produced less nitric oxide than interferon-gamma-primed uninfected cells. We propose that the ability of B. cepacia to resist intracellular killing by phagocytic cells may play a role in the pathogenesis of cystic fibrosis lung infection. Our data are consistent with a model where repeated cycles of phagocytosis and cellular activation without bacterial killing may promote a deleterious inflammatory response causing tissue destruction and decay of lung function.