The nature of the compartmentalization of catalase in human myeloid cells is an unresolved issue. Using a rabbit polyclonal antibody specific for catalase, indirect immunocytofluorescence of immature leukemic promyelocytes (HL-60 cells) showed a pattern of small, sharp, punctate staining in the cytoplasm of all cells, while mature neutrophils showed a larger diffuse, flocculent pattern of cytoplasmic staining. Differential centrifugation of nitrogen cavitates of HL-60 cells indicated that the putative catalase-containing compartment was relatively fragile compared with the compartment(s) that contained myeloperoxidase (MPO), beta-hexosaminidase, beta-glucuronidase, and lysosomal alpha-mannosidase activities. Parallel studies using dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO)-induced HL-60 cells and mature neutrophils showed that, in the course of differentiation, there was an apparent shift in the localization of catalase from the granule fraction to the cytosolic fraction. Percoll-sucrose density gradient centrifugation of HL-60 cell cavitates showed a catalase-containing compartment with a mean peak density (1.05 g/mL) significantly lower than that of the major myeloperoxidase-containing compartment (1.08 g/mL); in mature neutrophils, catalase activity comigrated with lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activity. Catalase in isolated fractions was protected from proteolysis in the absence, but not in the presence, of 0.1% Triton X- 100. Digitonin titration experiments confirmed the compartmentalized nature of catalase in immature HL-60 cells and were consistent with a cytosolic localization in mature neutrophils. Ultrastructural localization of catalase by Protein A-gold immunocytochemistry demonstrated four to six catalase-containing compartments in all HL-60 cell profiles. In mature neutrophils, catalase was localized primarily in the cytoplasmic matrix, although in fewer than 2% of the cell profiles, one to two catalase-containing compartments were observed. The changes in catalase localization that occur during myeloid differentiation appear to be similar to the changes that occur during erythroid and megakaryocytic differentiation, and may have potential clinical significance in the classification of acute leukemia and in the development of drug resistance.