Most previous studies of IgG FcR on neutrophils (PMN) have focused on a single FcR of Mr = 50 to 70 kDa, which is recognized by mAb 3G8 and anti-Leu-11a. In the course of studying the effects of extracellular proteases on PMN receptor expression and function, we found that treatment with human leukocyte elastase reduced the expression of this FcR on the PMN surface by as much as 85% in flow cytometric studies, but did not inhibit ingestion of IgG-coated particles or O2- production induced by multivalent IgG complexes, and caused only a 35% decrease in IC binding to PMN. Since a second FcR with Mr = 40 kDa recognized by mAb IV-3, recently has been identified on PMN, we sought to determine if this FcR was resistant to elastase and thus accounted for the elastase stability of IgG-mediated PMN functions. Elastase treatment that reduced 3G8 binding by 85% caused no decrease in binding of mAb IV-3. For non-elastase-treated PMN, mAb IV-3 against the 40 kDa FcR caused as much as 79 +/- 7% inhibition of IgG-induced O2- production, whereas mAb 3G8 against the 50 to 70 kDa FcR caused only 32 +/- 5% inhibition. In contrast, for IC-binding, mAb IV-3 caused only 15 +/- 6% inhibition, whereas mAb 3G8 caused as much as 80 +/- 9% inhibition, a reversal of their relative effects on O2- production. In parallel studies with elastase-treated PMN, mAb IV-3 actually blocked more IC binding than did mAb 3G8, 55 +/- 4% vs 40 +/- 6%, respectively, presumably because most of the 50 to 70 kDa FcR molecules had been cleaved. The effect of the two mAb together in blocking IC binding was additive, whereas for blocking of O2- production, mAb 3G8 added little or nothing to the effect of mAb IV-3 alone. Direct 125I-labeled Ab binding studies with intact PMN revealed seven times as many 50 to 70 kDa as 40kDa FcR, 110,200 +/- 9600 and 15,100 +/- 700 sites/cell, respectively. Our findings suggest that the elastase-resistant 40 kDa FcR is primarily responsible for IgG-mediated activation of human PMN, whereas the elastase-sensitive 50 to 70 kDa FcR predominates in IC binding, by virtue of its numerical superiority, but does not directly activate the cell. The latter may serve to hold IgG-coated microorganisms or other multivalent IC in place at the PMN surface, enhancing contact with the 40 kDa FcR and thus facilitating cell activation in a cooperative manner.