Polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) constitutively synthesize various plasma membrane proteins including CR1(3) (CD35), CR3 (or Mac-1) alpha-chain (CD11b) and MHC class I. PMN are also able to up-regulate rapidly the expression of CR1 and CR3 to the plasma membrane in response to agonists such as FMLP. To determine whether constitutive PMN translation was static or up-regulatable, PMN were cultured in the presence or absence of the cytokine granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) for 8 h. CR1, CR3 and class I proteins immunoprecipitated from lysates of 35S-methionine pulse-labeled PMN were resolved by SDS-PAGE, fluorographed and quantified by densitometry. GM-CSF-treated PMN synthesized 4.5-fold more class I protein, 3.7-fold more CR1, 2.4-fold more CD11b and 3.4-fold more CR3 beta-chain (CD18), compared with untreated control cells. Actinomycin D treatment of replicate samples of PMN decreased the amount of these proteins synthesized by each group of PMN from 30 to 90%, implying that continued translation was required for the increases in protein synthesis. Nascent CR and class I proteins were inserted into the plasma membrane of PMN, thereby supplementing the molecules already expressed on the cell surface. In addition to these longer term effects of GM-CSF, we observed its acute up-regulatory effects on PMN. GM-CSF induced a five- to 12-fold increase in the expression of CR1 and CR3 on the PMN cell surface within 30 min. These increases were both dose- and time-dependent with maximum up-regulation occurring at 25 pM and at 30 min. In contrast to the long term biosynthetic events, this rapid up-regulation was not dependent on protein synthesis but was due instead to mobilization of CR from intracellular compartments similar to those up-regulated by FMLP. These results demonstrate that PMN can respond to microenvironmental stimuli such as GM-CSF both by rapidly up-regulating and increasing translation and expression of functionally important plasma membrane proteins.