Cardiac lymph from a canine model of myocardial ischemia and reperfusion was examined for evidence of chemotactic activity. Lymph was continuously collected from awake animals before and during a 60-minute coronary artery occlusion and up to 6 hours after the initiation of reperfusion. It was assessed for the ability to activate the following proinflammatory functions in neutrophils isolated from the blood of healthy dogs: 1) morphological changes characteristic of chemotactic stimulation, which were assessed by phase contrast microscopy, 2) orientation of canine neutrophils in a gradient of cardiac lymph, which was assessed in Zigmond chambers, 3) the binding of monoclonal antibodies reactive with CD11b and CD18 adherence glycoproteins, which was assessed by flow cytometry, and 4) adherence of canine neutrophils to monolayers of canine jugular vein endothelium, which was assessed in vitro by a visual assay. Lymph samples collected after 1 hour of reperfusion in animals demonstrating ECG evidence of ischemia and histological evidence of infarction exhibited significant stimulatory activity for each of the functions tested. Shape change-inducing activity was evaluated at more frequent intervals than other functions and was found to peak at 1 hour after initiation of reperfusion and to disappear by 6 hours. In addition, the CD11b/CD18 levels on neutrophils isolated from cardiac lymph collected during reperfusion were significantly greater than neutrophils obtained before or during occlusion. Animals that failed to exhibit evidence of infarction also failed to exhibit increased stimulatory activity in lymph collected during reperfusion, and surface levels of CD11b/CD18 on neutrophils collected from reperfusion lymph were not elevated. This study provides direct evidence supporting the hypothesis that chemotactic activity is generated in ischemic and reperfused myocardium.