Polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) isolated from the synovial fluid (SF) of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) exhibited an enhanced oxidative response to heat aggregated IgG (Hagg) and N-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (FMLP) as compared with either autologous or normal blood PMN. Normal blood PMN pretreated with synovial fluid showed a significantly increased response to FMLP which was unaffected by prior dialysis of SF. The degree of enhancement produced varied between SF's and was dependent on the period for which cells were incubated and on the concentration of SF used. In contrast there was no enhancement of the oxidative response when Hagg was used as a stimulus. Indeed, SF produced a dose dependent inhibition of Hagg stimulated superoxide production. These observations suggest that SF's from patients with RA contain factors which both enhance and inhibit the oxidative response of PMN depending on the subsequent stimulus.