The mechanisms responsible for the unusual susceptibility of multiple myeloma (MM) patients to infections are incompletely defined. Since MM is associated with decreased production of normal serum proteins, we investigated the possibility that the production of opsonins might also be impaired. The neutrophil chemiluminescence assay of opsonization was used to evaluate the ability of serum from patients with MM to opsonize zymosan. It was found that sera from 18 MM patients exerted only 50% +/- 2.5% (mean +/- SEM) of the opsonic activity found in 18 control sera (p less than 0.001). In mixture experiments, untreated normal serum completely restored the opsonic activity of MM serum, suggesting a deficiency of opsonic factors rather than an inhibitor. In other mixture experiments, heat-inactivated normal serum only partially corrected the opsonic defect in MM serum. Serum from three patients had low C3 levels, and treatment of particles with these resulted in a greater opsonic defect than the patient population as a whole (p less than 0.02). No correlation between the opsonic defect and infections was established over an 18-mo period. These data suggest that MM serum lacks both heat-stable and heat-labile opsonic activity, the direct clinical significance of which remains to be clarified. However, these studies support the concept that defective host resistance in MM may be multifactoral, combining opsonic abnormalities with other defects previously described.