Because Streptococcus milleri group (SMG) bacteria--Streptococcus constellatus, Streptococcus intermedius, and Streptococcus anginosus--exhibit a striking propensity to cause abscesses, the interaction of these organisms with human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNL) was examined. After incubation in pooled normal human serum, SMG stimulated less chemotaxis than did Staphylococcus aureus, in contrast to viridans streptococci, which caused greater chemotaxis than did S. aureus. PMNL ingested greater numbers of SMG and viridans streptococci than S. aureus but killed these organisms more slowly and less completely. Relative resistance to killing by PMNL is expected in organisms that cause abscesses, and inhibition of chemotaxis may contribute to pathogenicity, because delayed arrival of PMNL gives a head start to proliferating bacteria. This study helps explain the capacity of SMG to cause abscesses. It is unclear, however, why viridans streptococci, bacteria that rarely produce abscesses, share some of these same properties.