Platelet-dependent activation of polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNL) was investigated with a lumi-aggregometer in heparinized whole blood and platelet-PMNL suspensions. The lumi-aggregometer allowed us to simultaneously monitor increases in impedance or light transmission as consequences of platelet aggregation and luminol-enhanced chemiluminescence (CL) as a measure of the oxidative burst in PMNL. Aggregation and platelet-PMNL contacts were also checked by light and electron microscopy. In whole blood, adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and the thromboxane A2 mimetic U 46619 induced the aggregation (increase in impedance) and the CL, which were both suppressed by EDTA, arginyl- glycyl-aspartyl-serine (RGDS) peptide, and the absence of stirring. In contrast, FMLP caused only CL that was unaffected by EDTA, RGDS peptide, and nonstirring. Similar observations were obtained with mixed suspensions containing washed platelets and PMNL at their physiologic concentrations. ADP, U 46619, and thrombin induced both aggregation (increase in light transmission) and CL, whereas FMLP caused CL but only very weak aggregation. Exogenous fibrinogen strongly enhanced the effects of ADP and U 46619. Iloprost, EDTA, RGDS peptide, red blood cell (RBC) ghosts, and nonstirring inhibited the effects induced by the platelet agonists, but were ineffective on the CL induced by FMLP. Treatment of platelets with aspirin did not affect the CL of PMNL induced by platelets. Microscopic examination, the requirements of stirring, Ca2+, and fibrinogen, and the inhibitory effects of RGDS peptide and RBC ghosts show that stimulated platelets activate PMNL in a contact-dependent manner that depends on fibrinogen binding. This was confirmed by the immunochemical demonstration of fibrinogen (but not of fibronectin) in the contact spaces between activated platelets and PMNL. Because supernatants and lysates of resting or thrombin- stimulated platelets did not induce the CL of PMNL, soluble agonists did not appear to be involved. Nonstimulated washed platelets also caused CL of PMNL that required stirring and Ca2+ and was inhibited by RBC ghosts. No CL occurred in unstimulated stirred whole blood, suggesting that a preactivation of platelets during the preparation may be responsible for the effects of unstimulated washed platelets. The results show that platelets provide a strong stimulus for PMNL that requires intercellular contact. Fibrinogen exposure on the platelet surface seems to be necessary for the activation of PMNL by stimulated platelets.