Using flow cytometry, we observed that interleukin-18 (IL-18) primed human neutrophils (PMNs) in whole blood to produce superoxide anion (O2 degrees-) in response to N-formyl peptide (fMLP) stimulation, whereas IL-18 alone had no significant effect. In contrast to tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), which is a cytokine known to strongly prime O2 degrees- production, IL-18 did not induce either p47phox phosphorylation or its translocation from the cytosol to the plasma membrane. However, IL-18 increased PMN degranulation, as shown by increased levels of cytochrome b558 and CD11b expression at the PMN surface. Moreover, addition of IL-18 to whole blood for 45 min reduced the ability of PMNs to bind to fMLP, suggesting endocytosis of fMLP receptors, as visualized by confocal microscopy. 2,3-Butanedione 2-monoxime, which inhibits endosomal recycling of plasma membrane components back to the cell surface, concomitantly accentuated the diminution of fMLP binding at the PMN surface and increased IL-18 priming of O2 degrees- production by PMNs in response to fMLP. This suggests that fMLP receptor endocytosis could account, at least in part, for the priming of O2 degrees- production. In addition, genistein, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, and SB203580, a p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38MAPK) inhibitor, completely reversed the decreased level of fMLP binding and increased the level of CD11b expression after IL-18 treatment. Flow cytometric analysis of intact PMNs in whole blood showed that IL-18 increased p38MAPK phosphorylation and tyrosine phosphorylation. In particular, IL-18 induced phosphorylation of focal adhesion kinase (p125FAK), which has been implicated in cytoskeleton reorganization. Taken together, our findings suggest several mechanisms that are likely to regulate cytokine-induced priming of the oxidative burst in PMNs in their blood environment.