1. Erythromycin (2-100 micrograms ml-1) produced a concentration-related inhibition of superoxide generation and elastase release induced by in vitro exposure of human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) to the chemotactic peptide N-formylmethionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (FMLP; 30 nM). 2. By contrast, erythromycin (100 micrograms ml-1) did not alter the leukotriene B4 production elicited by FMLP (30 nM; in the presence of thimerosal 20 microM) or the intracellular calcium changes promoted by FMLP (30 nM; in the absence or presence of thimerosal 20 microM). 3. These results indicate that by reducing chemoattractant-triggered release of oxidative and proteolytic mediators from human PMNs, erythromycin may have clinically useful antiinflammatory effects.