The NADPH:O2 oxidoreductase catalyzing the respiratory burst in activated phagocytes from healthy individuals is not operative in phagocytes from patients with chronic granulomatous disease (CGD). In a microscopic slide test using the dye nitroblue tetrazolium (NBT), carriers of X-linked CGD can be recognized by a mosaic pattern of NBT- positive and NBT-negative cells, governed by the expression of an unaffected or an affected X chromosome, respectively. Until now, it has not been possible to detect carriers of the autosomal form of CGD (other than by family studies) because all cells of these carriers stain positive in the NBT test. We have investigated whether neutrophils from carriers of autosomal CGD can be recognized by measurement of the rate of oxygen uptake upon stimulation of the cells. It was found that with the phorbol ester PMA as a stimulus, the respiratory burst is significantly lower in autosomal CGD carriers. With serum-treated zymosan as a stimulus, no difference between controls and carriers was observed. The addition of f-Met-Leu-Phe (1 microM) to PMA-activated neutrophils of control donors caused a transient increase in oxygen consumption of about 40%. Under these conditions, an increase of more than 100% was observed in neutrophils from carriers of autosomal CGD. These findings provide a simple method for the detection of carriers of the autosomal form of CGD.