The role of neutrophil chemoattractant receptors in neutrophil stimulation in vitro is well established, however, the precise mechanisms underlying local neutrophil accumulation at inflammatory sites in vivo have not been defined. A fundamental question that remains open is whether chemoattractants act on the endothelial cell or the neutrophil to initiate the process of neutrophil migration in vivo. To address this question we have investigated whether neutrophil accumulation in vivo can occur if chemoattractant receptor occupancy is uncoupled from neutrophil stimulation. For this purpose we have used pertussis toxin (PT) as the pharmacologic tool. We have investigated the effect of in vitro pretreatment of rabbit neutrophils with PT on their responses in vitro and on their accumulation in vivo. Pretreatment of rabbit neutrophils with PT inhibited FMLP- and C5a-, but not PMA- induced increases in CD18 expression, neutrophil adherence, and degranulation in vitro. This pretreatment procedure with PT inhibited the accumulation of radiolabeled neutrophils in vivo in response to intradermally injected FMLP, C5a, C5a des Arg, leukotriene B4, IL-8, and zymosan in rabbit skin. Further, in contrast to the in vitro results, PT inhibited the PMA-induced 111In-neutrophil accumulation in vivo. Interestingly, pretreatment of neutrophils with PT also inhibited accumulation in response to intradermally injected IL-1, despite the reports that IL-1 lacks neutrophil chemoattractant activity in vitro. Although the experimental techniques used cannot distinguish the different stages of neutrophil migration involved, these results suggest that the accumulation of neutrophils induced by local extravascular chemoattractants in vivo depends on a pertussis toxin-sensitive receptor operated event on the neutrophil itself. Further, PMA and IL-1 may release secondary chemoattractants in vivo.