Cyanide has been shown to stimulate both oxygen uptake and hexose monophosphate shunt activity in phagocytizing human polymorphonuclear leukocytes. It also stimulates the oxidation of NADPH by a particulate fraction derived from phagocytizing cells. This stimulation of NADPH oxidase is not observed in the presence of exogenous Mn2+. Studies with purified enzymes have shown that CN- also stimulates NADPH oxidation by horseradish peroxidase or lactoperoxidase, suggesting that the respiratory burst might be initiated by activation of a peroxidase-like enzyme in the human polymorphonuclear leukocyte. Based on studies of others, however, it does not appear as though the enzyme is identical to myeloperoxidase. The mechanism of the CN- stimulation appears to involve an oxidatic chain reaction, since it stimulates markedly NADPH oxidation in the presence of an artificial superoxide-generating system.