The neutrophil (polymorphonuclear cell, or PMN) function is an essential component of the host defense against infection. However, infection itself may alter PMN activity. To investigate both the effects of infection on PMN activity and PMN activity on survival, we evaluated control and infected blood and peritoneal PMN phagocytosis, chemotaxis, and superoxide anion production in rabbits with and without peritonitis. Control blood and peritoneal PMNs were obtained from noninfected rabbits which were subjected to intraperitoneal infusion of sterile hypertonic saline. Infected blood and peritoneal PMNs were obtained from rabbits which had undergone appendiceal devascularization and ligation 18 hr earlier. Phagocytosis was similar in all groups except for a threefold increase in normal peritoneal PMNs. Chemotaxis was inhibited by infection in the blood and peritoneal PMNs. Normal peritoneal PMNs also had decreased chemotaxis. Superoxide anion production was comparable in the infected and control blood; however, both control and infected peritoneal PMNs had elevated superoxide anion production. Of the infected rabbits, four died in 5 days or less. Of the six that lived, two developed intraabdominal abscesses. Blood and peritoneal PMN activity was similar in all rabbits despite their outcome. We conclude that (1) blood and peritoneal PMNs have different basal activities and responses to infection; (2) the milieu of the peritoneal cavity appears to alter the PMNs present; and (3) PMN activity did not predict morbidity or mortality.
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