Human neutrophils were evaluated for their ability to generate nitric oxide. Neutrophils incubated with superoxide dismutase at 37 degrees C produce nitrite anion at a rate of 1.8 nmols/2 x 10(6) cells/30 min, providing indirect evidence of nitric oxide production. Incubation of the neutrophils with concentrations of serum-opsonized zymosan, N-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine, or phorbol myristate acetate sufficient to stimulate the respiratory burst and lysosomal enzyme release caused no additional nitrite anion production. Glass wool-adherent neutrophils exhibited a similar dissociation of nitrite anion production from the respiratory burst and lysosomal enzyme release. Direct evidence for nitric oxide production was also obtained using nitric oxide-specific chemiluminescence. These results demonstrate that human neutrophils are capable of generating nitric oxide.