The response of neutrophils to N-formyl peptides is mediated via a specific 50,000- to 60,000-dalton (Mr) receptor. Real-time kinetic analysis indicated that most of the cellular responses elicited by this ligand began within 5-10 s of addition to the cells at 37 C. Of three possible biochemical changes measured that could serve as transducers or second messengers, two, i.e., increases in cyclic AMP (cAMP) and intracellular free Ca2+, occurred within 5 s of stimulus addition. In contrast, internalization of the ligand by cells showed a latency time of 20-30 s, which indicates that it probably plays no role in triggering later responses. Using pulse binding techniques that allow the level of a given response to be measured as a function of the measured level of surface receptor occupancy, we found that O2- production required up to 30% receptor occupancy to elicit 50% of maximal response. In contrast, secretion, cAMP changes, Ca2+ changes, and membrane potential changes required less than 5% occupancy. Within 5 s, occupied receptors were converted at the cell surface to a slowly dissociating form. The receptors, exhibiting apparent higher affinity, were transiently associated with the cell cytoskeleton as defined by their conversion to a Triton X-100-insoluble form. Internalized receptor-ligand complexes were transported, in large part, to the Golgi apparatus. Further analyses of the mechanism of stimulation of leukocytes have been performed with monoclonal antibodies directed against the neutrophil surface. Data with these antibodies, which are not directed to the N-formyl peptide receptor, reveal that some modulated the N-formyl peptide-mediated responses and other antibodies initiated responses of the cells.