In four healthy volunteers, we analyzed in detail the immediate in vivo effects on circulating neutrophils of subcutaneous administration of 300 micrograms of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF). Neutrophil activation was assessed by measurement of degranulation. Mobilization of secretory vesicles was shown by a decrease in leukocyte alkaline phosphatase content of the circulating neutrophils. Furthermore, shortly postinjection, Fc gamma RIII was found to be upregulated from an intracellular pool that we identified by immunoelectron microscopy as secretory vesicles. Intravascular release of specific granules was shown by increased plasma levels of lactoferrin and by upregulation of the expression of CD66b and CD11b on circulating neutrophils. Moreover, measurement of fourfold elevated plasma levels of elastase, bound to its physiologic inhibitor alpha 1- antitrypsin, indicated mobilization of azurophil granules. However, no expression of CD63, a marker of azurophil granules, was observed on circulating neutrophils. G-CSF--induced mobilization of secretory vesicles and specific granules could be mimicked in whole blood cultures in vitro, in contrast to release of azurophil granules. Therefore, we postulate that the most activated neutrophils leave the circulation, as observed shortly postinjection, and undergo subsequent stimulation in the endothelial microenvironment, resulting in mobilization of azurophil granules. Our data demonstrate that G-CSF should be regarded as a potent immediate activator of neutrophils in vivo.