Human neutrophils were isolated from peripheral blood by four methods: 1) Ficoll-Hypaque gradients and erythrocyte lysis, 2) plasma-Percoll gradients, 3) a "lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-free" method yielding 85% neutrophils, and 4) by centrifugation of cells prepared by Method 3 through a plasma-Percoll gradient to produce pure neutrophils. The use of the Ficoll-Hypaque method resulted in spontaneous change of cell shape, enhanced formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (FMLP)-stimulated release of superoxide anion, increased release of lysosomal enzymes upon subsequent FMLP stimulation, and reduced chemotactic responsiveness, by comparison with the other methods. These effects were not due to erythrocyte lysis by NH4C1 but were reproduced by exposure of neutrophils prepared by the "LPS-free" method or the use of plasma-Percoll gradients to 10-100 ng/ml LPS. Neutrophil change of shape and stimulated O-2 production were particularly sensitive markers of these effects. The effects of trace concentrations of LPS in the modulation of neutrophil function may have relevance to the pathophysiology of endotoxemia and its resultant tissue injury.