Neutrophil-derived proteases such as neutrophil elastase (NE) and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) are implicated in the pathogenesis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). In this study, the effects of selective phosphodiesterase (PDE) inhibition on NE and MMP-9 release, as well as Myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity and integrin-mediated neutrophil adhesion to human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs), were investigated. Human neutrophils were treated with PDE inhibitors (10(-11)-10(-4)M) in the absence and presence of TNF-alpha (tumour necrosis factor) (100 U ml(-1)) for 30 min, prior to fMLP activation. After 45 min, the cells were removed and NE, MPO and MMP-9 release assessed. In the adhesion studies, the neutrophils were radio-labelled with 51Cr, stimulated and immediately transferred to cultured HUVEC monolayers for 30 min, prior to assessment of adhesion. TNF-alpha (100 U ml(-1)) acted synergistically with fMLP in stimulating azurophil degranulation with respect to both MPO activity (P<0.01) and NE release (P<0.01). In contrast, an additive effect was observed with TNF-alpha and fMLP with regard to MMP-9 release and neutrophil adhesion to HUVECs. The PDE4 inhibitors, roflumilast, roflumilast N-oxide, cilomilast and rolipram significantly suppressed MPO, NE and MMP-9 release in both the presence and absence of TNF-alpha (P<0.05; n=6-10) and also reduced neutrophil adhesion to HUVECs. In contrast, milrinone, a PDE3 inhibitor and the non-selective PDE inhibitor, theophylline did not inhibit azurophil degranulation under any of the experimental conditions. These data provide further evidence that selective PDE4 isoenzyme inhibitors can inhibit neutrophil degranulation, effects not shared by PDE3 inhibitors or theophylline.