Luminol and lucigenin chemiluminescence (CL) responses produced by separated human blood polymorphonuclear leukocytes (pmn) and monocytes (mono) have been studied following stimulation with the surface-receptor agonist fMLP (a synthetic chemotactic peptide) and the protein kinase C activator phorbol myristate acetate (PMA). Pmn produced two- to threefold the luminol CL and superoxide anion (O2-) levels of mono; lucigenin CL was similar for both cell-types. The myeloperoxidase (MPO) inhibitor salicylhydroxamic acid (SHA) abrogated luminol but not lucigenin CL in both cell types, but did not further inhibit the already grossly subnormal luminol CL responses seen with MPO-deficient cells which produced normal lucigenin CL. SHA also profoundly inhibited the luminol CL response in a cell-free MPO-H2O2 system. Mono lucigenin CL does not appear to specifically measure O2- production. These data show that luminol CL provides a useful measure of pmn and also mono MPO activity. However, analysis of the effects of various reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavengers, assessed on phagocyte and cell-free CL systems (both MPO-H2O2 and superoxide generating) suggest that the luminol CL signal is not entirely dependent on MPO activity.