Recently, some investigators have observed elevated concentrations of chloride in the airway surface fluid (ASF) overlying respiratory epithelia from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients compared with ASF overlying non-CF epithelia. Others have shown that this elevated ASF salt concentration can inactivate human beta-defensin-1, an antimicrobial peptide secreted by respiratory epithelia. This could impair the primary epithelial defense against bacteria in the CF airway, thereby forcing a greater reliance on polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN)-mediated defenses. Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Psa) flourishes in the CF airway despite the presence of abundant PMN. We therefore investigated whether elevated ASF chloride concentration in CF might also compromise PMN function. We employed a cell-culture model in which halide concentrations and osmolarity were varied independently. We examined the effects of chloride concentration on three aspects of PMN function: recruitment of PMN to the airway (production of interleukin-8 [IL-8]), PMN antimicrobial activity (killing of Psa), and PMN clearance from the airways (apoptosis and lysis). We found that exposure to elevated chloride concentration increased PMN synthesis of IL-8, decreased PMN killing of Psa, and accelerated PMN apoptosis and lysis. In CF airways, elevated chloride therefore could contribute to the increased number of PMN recruited into the airways, the increased survival of Psa, and the increased quantity of toxic mediators released by PMN into the airways. These effects of elevated chloride on PMN function may provide another causal link between loss of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator function and CF lung disease.