Persistence of bacteria in spite of a normal host immune system and relevant antibiotic treatment is a key problem in many chronic infections, such as the bronchopulmonary P. aeruginosa infection in cystic fibrosis patients. The capability of bacteria to establish themselves in microcolonies or biofilms is an important protective mechanism of the microorganisms. We examined the human PMN oxidative burst response to P. aeruginosa in biofilm and in planktonic form. The PMN chemiluminescence response to P. aeruginosa in biofilms was reduced to 30.5-47.5% (p less than 0.04) and the superoxide response to 85.9% (p less than 0.02) of the response to equivalent numbers of planktonic bacteria. Mechanical disruption of the biofilms before the assays elicited a significantly increased response in the chemiluminescence experiments and to nonopsonized biofilms in the superoxide anion experiments. We conclude that biofilm bacteria, although able to stimulate the PMN, result in a reduced, suboptimal response leading to lack of efficient eradication of the bacteria in the chronic infection.