Recombinant human granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (rhG-CSF) enhanced superoxide release and membrane depolarization in parallel in human granulocytes stimulated by the receptor-mediated agonists, N- formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine and wheat germ agglutinin, but not by the Ca2+ ionophore ionomycin and phorbol myristate acetate, which bypass the receptors to stimulate the cells. The optimal effect was obtained by pretreatment of cells with 25 to 50 ng/mL (1.3 to 2.6 nmol/L) rhG-CSF for 10 minutes at 37 degrees C. rhG-CSF produced by bacteria and mammalian cells had identical biological effects on a molar basis. rhG-CSF neither affected stimulus-induced increase in cytoplasmic free Ca2+ nor changed the number and affinity of N-formyl- methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine receptors. The priming effect of rhG-CSF was temperature dependent and did not require new protein synthesis. rhG-CSF increased the expression of C3bi receptors on human granulocytes and enhanced granulocyte adherence to nylon fiber. The optimal effect was obtained by pretreatment of cells with 25 to 50 ng/mL rhG-CSF for 30 minutes at 37 degrees C. rhG-CSF had no effect on human monocytes. These findings demonstrate that rhG-CSF can selectively stimulate mature granulocyte functions.