Neonatal neutrophils (polymorphonuclear leukocytes [PMN]) exhibit a well-documented deficiency in chemotaxis, the nature of which has not been fully elucidated. To determine whether impaired ability of neonatal PMN to increase hexose uptake in response to chemoattractants could contribute to this defect, we compared uptake of 2-deoxy-D- glucose (2-DOG) in stimulated versus resting PMN from neonates (cord blood) and healthy adults. Compared with unstimulated values; N-formyl- methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (fMLP) (optimal at 10 nmol/L) caused a threefold to fourfold increase in 2-DOG uptake by adult PMN. Unstimulated 2-DOG uptake by neonatal PMN was slightly higher than that for adult cells, but fMLP caused only a minimal (less than twofold) increase, and optimally stimulated uptake was significantly lower than for adult PMN (P < .01 for adult versus neonatal stimulated uptake; n = 6). Findings were similar when ionomycin or C5a was used as a stimulus. Optimal fMLP stimulation of adult PMN was associated with a marked decrease in the Km for 2-DOG uptake, from 0.74 +/- 0.11 to 0.23 +/- 0.03 mmol/L (delta Km = -0.51 +/- 0.12 mmol/L; n = 6). In contrast, there was relatively little fMLP-induced change in the Km for uptake of 2-DOG by neonatal PMN (from 0.44 +/- 0.04 mmol/L to 0.32 +/- 0.019 mmol/L n = 6); delta Km = -0.12 +/- 0.04 mmol/L; P = .011 for adult versus neonatal delta Km. Stimulation with fMLP was not accompanied by a significant change in the Vmax for 2-DOG uptake with either adult or neonatal PMN, and the respective values for Vmax were similar. We conclude that the chemoattractant-induced increase in hexose uptake by PMN is deficient in neonates compared with adults and that this deficiency involves mechanisms that determine the Km for this process. This impairment may contribute to defective chemotaxis in neonatal PMN.