Resting neutrophils may be “primed” to augmented effector function, eg, superoxide (O2-) production in the respiratory burst, upon a second stimulation with a variety of soluble agonists including formylated methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (FMLP) and phorbol myristate acetate (PMA). At priming concentrations of FMLP (5 x 10(-9) mol/L) that did not initiate O2- generation, two metabolic activities were noted: (1) approximately a threefold increase in the baseline intracellular calcium (Ca++i) level, that was not dependent on extracellular Ca++, and (2) a rapid rise in intracellular pH that was blocked by 5-(N,N- dimethyl) amiloride (DA), that had no effect on the Ca++i response to priming. Furthermore, there were no significant increases in inositol metabolites in cells primed and stimulated with FMLP compared with cells receiving the stimulating dose of FMLP alone and pretreatment with pertussis toxin (PT) (before the addition of the priming -5 x 10(- 9) mol/L dose of FMLP), whereas abolishing the response to FMLP during the second stage of stimulation, had (1) no effect on FMLP-primed cells subsequently stimulated with PMA, and (2) only partially ablated the rise in Ca++i initiated with FMLP. That FMLP priming involved distinctive processes to those of the well characterized FMLP-coupled Ca++-dependent activation cascade was shown by the full priming effect attained in a Ca++-free buffer, which did not sustain an O2- response to a second-stage FMLP stimulation, but sustained a primed response to PMA. These data demonstrate that FMLP primes human neutrophils by a Ca++-independent and PT-insensitive pathway, offering a functional model for studying heterogeneous FMLP receptor-coupled reactions.