Human neutrophils have been considered to be a functionally homogeneous population of cells. We have developed a density sedimentation technique for separation of neutrophils into two populations based on their ability to form rosettes with IgG-coated human erythrocytes (7SEA). Under the experimental conditions 80% +/- 4.3% of normal human peripheral blood neutrophilis form rosettes. Functionally rosette- forming neutrophils are more adherent to nylon wool, able to phagocytize more 14C-labeled Staphylococcus aureus, more efficient in killing S. aureus, and more responsive to endotoxin-activated human serum in a 51-cr chemotaxis assay that the non-rosette forming neutrophils. However, there is no difference among neutrophil subpopulations' ability to phagocytize latex particles. Paired samples of exudate neutrophils from cutaneous abscess fluid and peripheral neutrophils from three patients were investigated for their ability to form 7SEA rosettes. In each case exudate neutrophils contained greater than 96% rosette-forming neutrophils, whereas peripheral blood contained the normal 80% ( less than 0.01). Thus we show that peripheral blood contains at least two distinct populations of neutrophils. However, an essentially homogeneous neutrophil population is present in cutaneous exudate fluid.