It has been shown that pulmonary macrophage (PM) phagocytosis of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) is inhibited in the presence of serum from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients colonized by Pseudomonas, and that these sera contain high concentrations of IgG2 antibodies. The goal of these studies was to investigate the role that IgG2-containing immune complexes (IC) play in this inhibition of both PM and neutrophil phagocytosis. We found that serum IgG2 concentrations were elevated significantly in CF patients with chronic PA colonization and that in selected sera from CF patients with chronic PA colonization (CF + IC, n = 10), the mean IC level was significantly elevated (2.90 +/- 0.22 mg/dl [SEM]). IgG2 comprised 74.5% of IgG precipitated in IC from CF + IC sera. An invitro phagocytic assay of [14C]PA uptake using CF + IC whole-sera opsonins confirmed that endocytosis by normal PM and neutrophils was significantly depressed. Removal of IC from CF + IC sera resulted in significantly decreased serum IgG2 concentrations without a significant change in the other subclass concentrations, and enhanced [14C]PA uptake by PM (26.6% uptake increased to 47.3%) and neutrophils (16.9% increased to 52.6%). Return of the soluble IgG2 IC to the original CF sera supernatants and the positive control sera resulted in return of the inhibitory capacity of the CF + IC sera. We conclude that immune sera from patients with chronic Pseudomonas infections characterized by elevated IgG2 subclass level functions poorly as an opsonin. In these individuals, IgG2 contributes significantly to circulating IC and removal of IC, matched by a simultaneous fall in IgG2, improves bacterial uptake by neutrophil and mononuclear phagocytes. IgG2 antibodies exert antiphagocytic effects by both direct inhibition and the formation of IC.