Migration of polymorphonuclear neutrophil leukocytes (PMN) into the mammary gland provide the first line of defense against invading mastitis pathogens. Bacteria release potent toxins that activate white blood cells and epithelial cells in the mammary gland to secrete cytokines that recruit PMN that function as phagocytes at the site of infection. While freshly migrated PMN are active phagocytes, continued exposure of PMN to inhibitory factors in milk such as fat globules and casein, leads to altered PMN morphology and reduced phagocytosis. In the course of phagocytosing and destroying invading pathogens, PMN release chemicals that not only kill the pathogens but that also cause injury to the delicate lining of the mammary gland. This will result in permanent scarring and reduced numbers of milk secretory cells. The life span of PMN is limited by the onset of apoptosis. To minimize damage to mammary tissue, PMN undergo a specialized process of programmed cell death known as apoptosis. Macrophages quickly engulf and phagocytose apoptotic PMN, thereby minimizing the release of PMN granular contents that are damaging to tissue. The PMN possess an array of cell surface receptors that allow them to adhere and migrate through endothelium and to recognize and phagocytose bacteria. One receptor found on phagocytes that is receiving considerable attention in the control of infections by Gram-negative bacteria is CD14. Binding of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to membrane bound CD14 causes release of tumor necrosis factor-alpha and sepsis. Binding of LPS to soluble CD14 shed from CD14-bearing cells results in neutralization of LPS and rapid recruitment of PMN to the site of infection. Recent advances in the fields of genomics and proteomics should greatly enhance our understanding of the PMN role in controlling intramammary infections in ruminants. Further, manipulation of PMN, through either recombinant proteins such as soluble CD14 that enhance PMN response or agents that mediate PMN apoptosis, may serve as novel therapeutics for the treatment of mastitis.