Participation of human polymorphonuclear neutrophils in the inflammatory response is mediated, in part, by soluble factors such as chemotactic peptides and cytokines. Although the cytokine, transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta), has been shown to recruit monocytes and promote the inflammatory process, its effects on neutrophils are unknown. In this investigation, [125I]TGF-beta 1 affinity binding studies were employed to show that neutrophils express TGF-beta receptors (350 +/- 20 receptors/cell), which exhibit high affinity for the ligand (dissociation constant, 50 pM). Affinity cross-linking studies identified the receptors to be primarily of the type I class. In contrast to the receptors on monocytes, neutrophil TGF-beta receptors were not down-regulated by exposure to specific inflammatory mediators. Additional studies examined whether exposure of neutrophils to TGF-beta could enhance specific functions, as occurs with monocytes. TGF-beta was shown to cause directed migration of neutrophils at femtomolar concentrations, thus it is the most potent neutrophil chemotactic factor yet identified. Neutrophil production of reactive oxygen intermediates was not stimulated by TGF-beta, nor did TGF-beta enhance or depress subsequent PMA- or FMLP-stimulated superoxide production. However, the stable expression of neutrophil TGF-beta receptors, and the capacity of this cytokine to stimulate neutrophil chemotaxis, suggest that the pro-inflammatory effects of TGF-beta are mediated by neutrophils in addition to monocytes.