Respiratory burst activity was compared between cultured newborn rat microglia and directly harvested adult rat peritoneal macrophages using a Clarke oxygen electrode system. Both types of cells showed stimulated oxygen consumption almost immediately after the administration of opsonized zymosan, phorbol myristate acetate, concanavalin A, or tuftsin. The absolute values of stimulated oxygen consumption after administration of these agents ranged from 0.11 to 0.99 nmol per min per million cells, with some variation in relative response of microglia compared with peritoneal macrophages. After lysis of cells with deoxycholate, or disruption by sonication, oxygen consumption was restored by NADPH for stimulated microglia but not stimulated astrocytes. The potential for stimulated microglia to generate oxygen free radicals may have implications in several degenerative neurological diseases where activated microglia are found in association with the lesions.