A profound defect in granulocyte chemotaxis was documented in an otherwise healthy 21-yr-old man who failed to localize granulocytes to an area of cellulitis during an allergic reaction to cephalothin. During the period of drug allergy, characterized by urticaria, eosinophilia, and profound hypocomplementemia, in vitro migration of the patient's granulocytes in the Boyden chamber was markedly impaired. Although devoid of hemolytic complement activity, the patient's serum possessed supranormal chemotactic activity, even following heat inactivation, suggesting the presence of chemotactically active complement split products. Chemotactic function improved concomitantly with steroid therapy and normalization of serum complement levels, and was entirely normal following clinical recovery and cessation of steroid therapy. The chemotactic abnormality noted in the patient's cells was reproduced in normal granulocytes by preincubation either with patient serum or with cobra venom-activated fresh (but not heated) normal serum, suggesting that in vivo exposure of granulocytes to activated complement was responsible for the patient's abnormal chemotactic response. This mechanism may contribute to the increased infection propensity noted in other conditions characterized by in vivo complement activation, such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosis.