We have developed a continuous spectroscopic method to analyze the kinetics of elastase secretion by human neutrophils. We have used the elastase-specific substrate methylsuccinylalanylalanylprolylvalylmethylcoumarin amide (Castillo, M. J., Nakajima, K., Zimmerman, J., and Powers, J. C. (1979) Anal. Biochem. 99, 53-64), which liberates the fluorophore, aminomethylcoumarin, when cleaved by elastase. We find that secretion of elastase in cytochalasin B-treated cells is initiated within approximately 5 s of exposure of the cells to the fluoresceinated chemotactic peptide stimulus, N-formyl-norleucylleucylphenylalanylnorleucyltyrosyllysine-fluorescein, and that secretion is completed within 30 s. The kinetics of this response is only slightly dependent on the concentration of the stimulus. Up to 100% (approximately 0.5 pg/neutrophil) of the elastase can be released in a dose-dependent manner by stimulated cells. We have also used this fluoresceinated stimulus and an antibody to fluorescein (Sklar, L. A., Oades, Z. G., Jesaitis, A. J., Painter, R. G., and Cochrane, C. G. (1981) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 78, 7540-7544) to probe the temporal relationship between the binding of stimulus to the receptors and the cellular response. We find that the entire response is elicited by the binding which occurs within the first 15 s after the addition of stimulus, regardless of the dose. We estimate that an occupancy of no more than 20% of the cellular receptors for the stimulus is required to evoke the optimal response.