The metabolism of L-arginine to nitric oxide (NO) has been shown to be important for the effector functions of many cell types, including polymorphonuclear (PMN) leukocytes. Its effect appears to be mediated at least in part by NO stimulation of soluble guanylate cyclase. We evaluated the role of this pathway in two PMN effector functions: cell movement and microbial killing, using the competitive inhibitor of L- arginine conversion to NO, NG-monomethyl-L-arginine (NMA). We also evaluated the effect of additional L-arginine and dibutyryl cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) on any NMA-associated changes. Human peripheral blood neutrophils were used and the cells were incubated with and without NMA. Chemotaxis was evaluated using a 48-well micro- Boyden chamber. Microbial killing was evaluated using S aureus strains D2C and 502A. These studies demonstrated that chemotaxis to formyl- methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine was markedly inhibited in NMA-treated cells. This inhibition could be overcome if L-arginine or dibutyryl cGMP were added with the NMA. In contrast, microbial killing of S aureus was unaffected by NMA. These observations support the hypothesis that the L-arginine metabolism to NO and its effect on the cGMP level may be important for the dynamic changes required for neutrophil chemotaxis.