Signal transduction initiated by interaction of immune complexes (IC) with Fc gamma RII and Fc gamma RIII receptors on human neutrophils was studied by investigating the capacity of well-defined complexes to stimulate O2- generation in neutrophils. IC consisting of polyclonal rabbit antibody to human albumin were prepared at equivalence (insoluble complexes) and at five times Ag excess (soluble complexes). Stimulation of human neutrophils with soluble and insoluble IC caused a dose-dependent activation of the respiratory burst and O2- generation. Incubation of neutrophils with cytochalasin B significantly enhanced O2- generation in neutrophils stimulated with soluble IC. In contrast, cytochalasin B treatment had a minimal effect on O2- generation in neutrophils stimulated with insoluble IC. Treatment of neutrophils with PGE1 or pertussis toxin (PTx) significantly inhibited O2- generation by soluble IC-stimulated neutrophils. However, neither PGE1 nor PTx treatment significantly altered O2- generation in neutrophils stimulated with insoluble complexes. Although O2- generation induced by soluble IC was significantly inhibited by mAb against both Fc gamma RII and Fc gamma RIII receptor, insoluble IC stimulation of neutrophil O2- generation was significantly diminished only by mAb against Fc gamma RIII receptor. Cross-linking of either Fc gamma RII or Fc gamma RIII receptors on neutrophil surfaces induced O2- generation, and this activation was inhibited by both PGE1 and PTx treatment. These findings indicate that soluble and insoluble ICs induce O2- production in human neutrophils through distinct mechanisms. Soluble IC induce activation of neutrophils through a PTx- and PGE1-sensitive pathway that is dependent upon both Fc gamma RII and Fc gamma RIII receptors. Although insoluble IC induce O2- production through a PTx and PGE1 insensitive pathway mediated primarily through Fc gamma RIII receptor.