Because hematopoietic cells express multiple Fc gamma receptor isoforms, the role of the individual Fc gamma receptors in phagocytosis has been difficult to define. Transfection of Fc gamma receptors into COS-1 cells, which lack endogeneous Fc gamma receptors but have phagocytic potential, has proved valuable for the study of individual Fc gamma receptor function. Using this model system, we have established that a single class of human Fc gamma receptor mediates phagocytosis in the absence of other Fc receptors and that isoforms from each Fc gamma receptor class mediate phagocytosis, although the requirements for phagocytosis differ. In investigating the relationship between structure and function for Fc gamma receptor mediated phagocytosis, the importance of the cytoplasmic tyrosines of the receptor or its associated gamma chain has been established. For example, two cytoplasmic YXXL sequences, in a configuration similar to the conserved tyrosine-containing motif found in Ig gene family receptors, are important for phagocytosis by the human Fc gamma receptor, Fc gamma RIIA. Fc gamma RI and Fc gamma RIIIA do not possess cytoplasmic tyrosines but transmit a phagocytic signal through interaction with an associated gamma subunit that contains two YXXL sequences in a conserved motif required for phagocytosis. The human Fc gamma RII isoforms Fc gamma RIIB1 and Fc gamma RIIB2 do not induce phagocytosis and have only a single YXXL sequence. Cross-linking the phagocytic Fc gamma receptors induces tyrosine phosphorylation of either Fc gamma RIIA or the gamma chain, and treatment with tyrosine kinase inhibitors reduces both phagocytosis and phosphorylation of the receptor tyrosine residues. Activation of protein tyrosine kinases follows Fc gamma receptor engagement of IgG-coated cells. The data indicate that coexpression of the protein tyrosine kinase Syk, which is associated with the gamma chain in monocytes/macrophages, is important for phagocytosis mediated by Fc gamma RI and Fc gamma RIIIA. Furthermore, phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase is required for phagocytosis mediated by Fc gamma RIIA as well as for phagocytosis mediated by Fc gamma RI/gamma and Rc gamma RIIIA/gamma.