In infants, the major components of the innate immune system appear weakened, and it has been shown that both polymorphonuclear neutrophil (PMN) production and function are immature. This study was conducted to assess the expression of a number of receptors important to normal PMN function and the integrity of PMN degranulation in cord blood and in uninfected children of varying ages born to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) seropositive mothers. Although the expression of l-selectin (CD62L) on PMN did not differ between the infants aged 12, 15 and 18 months, the expression of the interleukin-8 (IL-8) receptors CXCR1 and CXCR2, and the complement 5a (C5a) receptor CD88 displayed a similar pattern, with the highest levels expressed on PMN from infants in the 12 month old age group, and declining with age. It was also observed that PMN from a substantial proportion of the younger infants were unresponsive to a variety of stimuli including IL-8, C5a, stromal cell-derived factor (SDF)-1alpha, SDF-1beta, and phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA), with the proportions of children showing positive (adult-like) PMN degranulation responses increasing with age. Exposure to HIV-1 did not appear to be the cause of impaired degranulation responses, since a similar proportion of cord blood PMN from uninfected infants born to HIV-1 infected and HIV-1 uninfected mothers were unresponsive. The altered expression of these important receptors and inefficient agonist-induced degranulation in early life may contribute to the increased susceptibility of infants to secondary microbial infections.