Polymorphonuclear neutrophils are professional phagocytes whose efficacy depends on a multicomponent NADPH oxidase for generating superoxide anions and bacterial killing. They can be primed and activated by different agents that can impair oxidative burst and phagocytosis with opposite effects: reduced capability to destroy bacteria or hyperactivation that induces the generation of large quantities of toxic reactive oxygen species, which can damage surrounding tissue and participate in inflammation. The present study was designed to evaluate the effect of sub-chronic (60 days) permethrin treatment (1/10 DL(50)) on rat polymorphonuclear neutrophils respiratory burst. The results show that permethrin treatment increases superoxide anion production (33 times) and the activity of hydrogen peroxide-myeloperoxidase system (67 times). In vitro experiments suggest that this effect can be related to permethrin priming and to physico-chemical changes at the plasma membrane level of neutrophils. The antioxidant supplementation with Vitamin E and coenzyme Q(10) can protect against the abnormal respiratory burst in rat treated with permethrin. The in vitro studies show that neutrophil apoptosis begins soon after 1h of incubation with permethrin (0.725% of total cells) or its metabolites (3-phenoxybenzyl alcohol, 3-phenoxybenzaldehyde and 3-phenoxybenzoic acid 1.36, 2.26 and 1.3 of total cells, respectively) and that the level of apoptotic cells is very low. In conclusion, immunotoxicity of permethrin measured in rats could prompt future studies on the consequences of chronic insecticide exposure.