Bovine milk is known to exert a potent chemotactic activity on neutrophils, but the responsible agent has not been identified. The objective of the study was to characterize the main biochemical component responsible for this chemotactic activity. A neutrophil shape change assay was used to locate active milk fractions separated by chromatography. A single protein was isolated and identified by amino acid sequencing and mass spectrometry as CXCL3. Recombinant bovine chemokines and specific antibodies were used to show that normal milk contains active concentrations of CXCL1 (1-5ng/ml) and CXCL3 (100-500ng/ml), whereas CXCL2 and CXCL8/IL-8 were not detected. Depletion experiments with antibodies showed that CXCL3 was the main chemotaxin for neutrophils in normal (non-mastitic) milk. The chemokine CXCL3 was located by immunohistochemistry in mammary epithelial cells, and abundant mRNA was found in uninflamed mammary tissue, suggesting constitutive secretion by the lactating mammary epithelium. These results indicate that CXCL3/GRO-gamma is the major chemotactic factor for neutrophils in bovine milk in the absence of inflammation, and that it is secreted constitutively in milk by mammary epithelial cells. This finding prompts the question of the biological significance of permanent high concentrations of a CXC chemokine in milk.