Studies have shown that exposure to ambient particulate matter is related to an increased cardiopulmonary morbidity and mortality. The present study was designed to measure the effect of repeated exposure to urban air particles (PM10) on the rate of production and release of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) from the bone marrow into the peripheral blood. Rabbits exposed to PM10 (5 mg) twice a week for 3 wk, were given a bolus of 5'-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) to label dividing cells in the marrow that allows us to calculate the transit time of PMN in the bone marrow mitotic and postmitotic pools. The PM10 exposure (n = 8) causes a persistent increase in circulating band cells (p < 0.05) and a shortening of the transit time of PMN through the postmitotic pool in the marrow (64.4 +/- 2.2 h to 56.3 +/- 2.2 h, p < 0.05) if compared with vehicle-exposed control subjects (n = 6). PM10 exposure increases the bone marrow pool of PMN particularly the mitotic pool of PMN (p < 0.05). The PM10 were distributed diffusely in the lung and caused a mild mononuclear inflammation. The percentage of alveolar macrophages containing PM10 correlated significantly with the bone marrow PMN pool size (total pool r2 = 0.56, p < 0.012, mitotic pool r2 = 0.61, p < 0.007) and the transit time of PMN through the postmitotic pool (r2 = -0.42, p < 0.043). We conclude that repeated exposure to PM10 stimulates the bone marrow to increase the production of PMN in the marrow and accelerate the release of more immature PMN into the circulation. The magnitude of these changes was related to the amount of particles phagocytosed by alveolar macrophages.