Polymorphonuclear leukocytes are termed professional phagocytes because they are specially equipped to seek and destroy invading microorganisms. Polymorphonuclear leukocytes are formed in the bone marrow and released into the circulation, where they are transported to the tissues. At sites of tissue invasion by microorganisms, humoral factors are released that induce these cells to leave the bloodstream and enter the tissues. Chemotactic substances guide polymorphonuclear leukocytes to the infecting organisms. Antibody and complement can function as opsonins and enhance the ability of polymorphonuclear leukocytes to engulf microbes. Ingested organisms are killed by oxidative or nonoxidative systems. Defects in the various aspects of polymorphonuclear leukocyte function may be found in patients with recurrent, severe, or unusual infections. Evaluation of selected patients with recurrent infections should include tests of polymorphonuclear leukocyte function.