Staining with CD14 and CD16 monoclonal antibodies will identify two monocyte subpopulations in human blood: a major population of regular monocytes, which strongly expresses the CD14 antigen (CD14++), and a minor population with weak expression of CD14 and expression of the CD16 antigen (CD14+/CD16+ cells). As shown herein, the latter cells account for 45 +/- 22 cells/microL and 9% +/- 5% of the monocytes in healthy control donors (n = 35). In septicemia patients, the CD14+/CD16+ cells can become a major population, with more than 50% of all monocytes in 3 of 18 patients and with more than 500 cells in 4 of 18 cases. There was no correlation of CD14+/CD16+ cells to any clinical parameter except for CD14+/CD16+ percentage and body temperature (P = .013). The CD14++ regular monocytes showed a substantial decrease in CD14 antigen density in 9 of 11 patients. Three-color immunofluorescence shows that the CD14+/CD16+ monocytes in septicemia patients when compared with the CD14++ monocytes exhibit a higher level of class II antigen and a lower level of CD11b and CD33 antigens, consistent with a more mature nature of the CD14+/CD16+ cells. Levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) were increased in septicemia patients; 3 of 5 patients with high numbers of CD14+/CD16+ cells (> 200/microL) had high levels of IL-6 (> 250/U/mL). These data suggest that septicemia may lead to substantial changes in blood monocyte composition and this may be related to elevated levels of cytokines such as IL-6.