Experiments were performed to probe the role of exocytotic and endocytotic processes in the regulation of the human granulocyte O-2-generating system. Analytical subcellular fractionation studies indicated that 25-30% of the total cellular b-cytochrome and 8-10% of the flavin co-sedimented with plasma membrane markers, irrespective of stimulation of the cells by the chemoattractants N-formyl-Met-Leu-Phe (FMLP) or C5a. Phorbol myristate acetate stimulation resulted in significant translocation of b-cytochrome but not flavin from the specific granule/Golgi to the plasma membrane-enriched fractions. These results indicated that approximately 3.1 X 10(5) flavin and 0.8-1 X 10(6) b-cytochrome molecules are present in the plasma membrane of an isolated unstimulated human granulocyte and that these levels are invariant upon stimulation with chemoattractants. Maximal instantaneous rates of O-2 generation by cells in these preparations, however, were equivalent for all the stimuli. Since stimulation of granulocytes by phorbol myristate acetate, FMLP, or C5a results in exocytosis and/or endocytosis, then the role of these processes in regulating stimulated O-2 production by controlling the content of plasma membrane redox enzymes is questionable. This conclusion was supported by observations made with cytoplasts, which do not have an intracellular reserve of granules. Cytoplasts prepared from granulocytes produced O-2 at equivalent rates as their parent cells on a per unit surface area basis. These results suggest: 1) that stimulation of granulocytes with chemotactic peptides leads to full generation of O-2 at the cell surface without exocytotic recruitment of additional b-cytochrome and flavoprotein from the cytoplasmic compartment; 2) that these redox enzymes are not internalized along with chemoattractant receptors; and 3) that traffic of these redox enzymes between endo- and plasma membranes is not involved in the regulation of O-2 production in suspensions of human granulocytes stimulated by chemoattractants.