When phagocyte CR3 binds to iC3b on bacteria or yeast, phagocytosis and degranulation are triggered because of simultaneous recognition of iC3b via a CD11b I-domain binding site and specific microbial polysaccharides via a lectin site located COOH-terminal to the I-domain. By contrast, when phagocyte or natural killer (NK) cell CR3 adheres to iC3b on erythrocytes or tumor cells that lack CR3-binding membrane polysaccharides, neither lysis nor cytotoxicity are stimulated. This investigation showed that soluble CR3-specific polysaccharides such as beta-glucan induced a primed state of CR3 that could trigger killing of iC3b-target cells that were otherwise resistant to cytotoxicity. Anti-CR3 added before sugars prevented priming, whereas anti-CR3 added after sugars blocked primed CR3 attachment to iC3b-targets. Polysaccharide priming required tyrosine kinase(s) and a magnesium-dependent conformational change of the I-domain that exposed the CBRM1/5 activation epitope. Unlike LPS or cytokines, polysaccharides did not up-regulate neutrophil CR3 expression nor expose the mAb 24 reporter epitope representing the high affinity ICAM-1-binding state. The current data apparently explain the mechanism of tumoricidal beta-glucans used for immunotherapy. These polysaccharides function through binding to phagocyte or NK cell CR3, priming the receptor for cytotoxicity of neoplastic tissues that are frequently targeted with iC3b and sparing normal tissues that lack iC3b.