Proteases can complicate the characterization of proteins from cells, especially human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN), which contain abundant neutral proteases. We tested the ability of agents to inhibit proteolysis, with special reference to the subunit polypeptides of the contractile proteins actin, myosin, and actin-binding protein (ABP). Phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride (PMSF), O-phenanthroline, EGTA, EDTA, N- ethylmaleimide, alone or in combinations, failed to prevent extensive proteolysis of the PMN proteins during solubilization of cells with dodecyl sulfate. These inhibitors and also alpha-1-antitrypsin and soybean trypsin inhibitor similarly could not prevent proteolysis during homogenization of cells in cold isosomolar sucrose. Treatment of PMN with greater than or equal to mM diisopropylfluorophosphate (DFP) prior to solubilization or homogenization markedly inhibited proteolysis. PMSF and DFP were equally effective in inhibiting proteolysis in PMN extracts, suggesting that the efficacy of DFP may result from its permeation of intact cells and granules before barriers are disrupted by detergents or homogenization. Treatment of PMN with DFP under conditions inhibiting proteolysis did not affect their rate of phagocytosis. We recommend the use of DFP in future studies correlating functions and protein structure of PMN.