The ability of nine Escherichia coli strains, and of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS)3 and lipid A preparations, to elicit in a pure population of bone marrow-derived mononuclear phagocytes (BMM phi) tumoricidal activity and/or the generation of reactive nitrogen intermediates (RNI) was compared. Generally, low concentrations of E. coli organisms were able to trigger the generation of RNI: however, for induction of tumoricidal activity, higher concentrations were required. Nonisogenic E. coli species exhibited different ability; isogenic E. coli organisms that differed only in the expression of K antigen exhibited similar ability to elicit the macrophage activities. LPS proved to be highly efficient in triggering the secretion of reactive nitrogen intermediates; lipid A was clearly less potent, but evidence is presented to suggest that this was due to the diminished solubility of these reagents. On the other hand, all LPS and lipid A samples were very poor inducers of tumoricidal activity. Although RNI secretion and expression of tumoricidal activity are both strongly dependent on L-arginine, various evidence suggests that the two functions are not closely correlated and are induced by different bacterial structures.