Aggregation and the activation of the granulocyte (PMN) superoxide (O2-) generating system occur when certain stimuli are added to resting cells. It had previously been postulated that PMN aggregation is essential for maximal O2- production. This study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that PMN aggregation is required for full expression of PMN O2- production. We examined aggregation and O2- production induced by four stimuli; concanavalin A (Con A), phorbol myristate acetate (PMA), N-formylmethionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (FMLP), and ionophore A23187. Cytochalasin B enhanced aggregation by all four stimuli but only enhanced the rate of O2- production by Con A; 2-deoxyglucose inhibited aggregation by all stimuli. Dissociation of PMN aggregation and O2- production was achieved by using NEM, TPCK, and divalent cations. NEM and TPCK prevent Con A-induced O2- production but have no effect on Con A-induced aggregation. PMA-stimulated PMN generate O2- in the presence or absence of Ca++ and Mg++. In contrast, PMA stimulated maximum PMN aggregation only in the presence of both Ca++ and Mg++. Thus PMN can generate O2- without aggregating, and PMN can aggregate without producing O2-. PMN from patients with chronic granulomatous disease do not generate O2- or undergo membrane potential depolarization in response to PMA. These PMN aggregated when stimulated with PMA, providing evidence that depolarization is not required for PMN aggregation. We conclude that aggregation and the activation of the O2- generating system, though temporally related, are not necessarily causally related.