Neutrophil extracts were prepared from the peripheral blood of 40 normal volunteers and tested for their ability to inhibit CSA production by mononuclear leukocytes. Highly dilute neutrophil extracts inhibited CSA production/release, while extracts selectively depleted of lactoferrin by antibody affinity chromatography did not. In addition, higher concentrations of neutrophil extracts and higher doses of lactoferrin (10(-9)-10(-6) M) failed to inhibit CSA production/release. We found no evidence of CSA or CSA-enhancing factors in either our lactoferrin or our neutrophil extracts. However, using gel chromatography and rate zonal density sedimentation, we noted that lactoferrin undergoes concentration-dependent polymerization at 10(-9)-10(-10) M in tissue culture medium and that while monomeric lactoferrin effectively inhibits CSA production/release in vitro, the polymeric form does not. Thus, while we have confirmed that lactoferrin is the activity in neutrophil extracts that inhibits CSA production, we have also found that lactoferrin undergoes reversible polymerization at physiologic concentrations and that the polymerized molecule is inactive. The tendency of lactoferrin to polymerize in tissue culture medium and in vivo should be taken into account in any studies on its potential role as a physiologically relevant regulator of granulopoiesis.