Increased susceptibility to infections in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) is thought to be due to neutropenia as well as functional abnormalities of neutrophils. In the present study we examined the effect of two different stimulants (fMLP, PMA) and three cytokines (alphaTNF, G-CSF and GM-CSF), both singly and in combination on granulocyte (RB) in 25 MDS patients compared to seven healthy controls. Single fMLP and PMA-stimulation showed similar results for both groups. Preincubation with cytokines enhanced fMLP-stimulated RB in most MDS patients and controls, but in patients to a significantly lesser extent when compared to the control group (p < or = 0,05). Combinations of alphaTNF + GM-CSF and alphaTNF + G-CSF were highly synergistic in priming fMLP-stimulated burst in both groups. But again, as with the single cytokine priming this effect was markedly reduced in MDS patients compared to controls (p < or = 0,05). A specific priming defect for one of the cytokines or a cytokine combination could not be demonstrated. Serum alphaTNF levels were measured in 18 and neutrophil alkaline phosphatase (NAP) index in 23 patients. Results did not correlate with variations of the RB in MDS patients. We conclude that reduced alphaTNF, GM-CSF and G-CSF priming of granulocyte RB is a frequent finding in MDS and may contribute to the enhanced susceptibility to bacterial infections.