The ultrastructural H2O2-producing site in human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) stimulated with soluble stimuli was studied using a CeCl3-technique. CeLlular aggregation and formation of small vacuoles were observed when PMN were stimulated with 100 microgram/ml concanavalin-A, 1 mg/ml phytohemagglutinin, or 100 microgram/ml wheat germ agglutinin for 10 min at 37 degrees C. Electron-dense deposits formed from the reaction of H2O2 and CeCl3 were observed on the contact surface of the plasma membrane of aggregated PMN stimulated with lectins. Treatment with 5 microgram/ml cytochalasin-B before lectin- stimulation induced an enhanced formation of vacuoles, degranuLation, rounding of the contour, cellular aggregation, and enhancement of the deposits. Phorbol myristate acetate (PMA; 100 ng/ml) induced strong leukocyte aggregation, the formation of multiple huge vacuoles, degranulation, and H2O2 production at almost all of the contact surface between adjoining PMN and between PMN and erythrocytes, mononuclear cells, or thrombocytes. In PMN stimulated with digitonin (B microgram/ml), vacuolar formation, degranulation, multiple projections on the surface, and H2O2 production on the whole surface membrane were demonstrated. It is shown that cellular aggregation and cell-to-cell contact have an important role in the induction of O2- production induced by lectins or PMA and that O2- production induced by the detergent is not dependent on leukocyte aggregation.