The influx of neutrophils into the lung is a prominent feature in patients with bacterial pneumonia. Since neutrophils migrate in response to chemotactic factors, chemotactic activity was evaluated in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid obtained from 12 patients with bacterial pneumonia and ten normal control subjects. Chemotactic activity was greatly elevated in the BAL fluid of the pneumonia patients compared with control subjects (p less than 0.01). To partially characterize the chemotactic factors present in the lavage fluid of the patient group, molecular sieve chromatography was performed on the lavage fluid, and at least three peaks of chemotactic activity were identified. Since the molecular weight of the smaller peaks approximated the molecular weight of two known chemotactic factors, C5a and leukotriene B4, these factors were measured in lavage fluid by radioimmunoassay. C5a was detectable in none of the normal subjects but was detectable in four of 14 BAL samples obtained from the patients. Leukotriene B4 was detectable in all subjects and was significantly elevated in the pneumonia patients (552 +/- 95 vs 81 +/- 16 pg/ml, p less than 0.01). These findings demonstrate that elevated neutrophil chemotactic activity is present in the lungs of patients with bacterial pneumonia and suggest that C5a and leukotriene B4 may account, at least in part, for this increase.