The production of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) by neutrophilic polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) after stimulation with phorbol myristate acetate (PMA), n-formyl-l-methionyl-l-leucyl-l-phenylalanine (FMLP), aggregated human IgG, or Staphylococcus aureus was determined in 36 patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). H2O2 production by PMN after stimulation was measured using flow cytometry. Thirty-six patients with NIDDM were divided into four stages as follows: 1) stage I: non-microalbuminuric stage; 2) stage II: microalbuminuric stage; 3) stage III: proteinuric stage without impairment of renal function; and 4) stage IV: proteinuric stage with impairment of renal function. H2O2 production after PMA stimulation in all stages of NIDDM patients was higher than that in healthy controls. This increase of H2O2 production by PMN was particularly observed in stage IV of NIDDM patients after stimulation. Furthermore, H2O2 production in patients in stage IV was higher than that in patients with non-diabetic disease with impairment of renal function. It appears that reactive oxygen species produced by PMN after stimulation under some conditions may play an important role in the progression of diabetic nephropathy.