The neutrophil phagolysosomal acidification during phagocytosis of Staphylococcus aureus was examined in six patients with large burns, using a flow cytometric technique allowing the simultaneous measurement of phagocytosis and phagolysosomal pH. The kinetics of neutrophil phagolysosomal acidification were altered during the first 20 days following injury, as the initial alkalinization of the phagolysosomes documented in control neutrophils could not be demonstrated in patient cells. Only at discharge and follow-up were the kinetics of phagolysosomal acidification normal. In addition, measurements of neutrophil maximal phagolysosomal acidification showed a lower pH in patient phagolysosomes than in the controls during the first 5 days of hospitalization. The changes of phagolysosomal acidification did not correlate with the alterations of neutrophil maturity or phagocytic capacity. The results demonstrate alterations of an oxygen-independent microbicidal mechanism in neutrophils from patients with large burns, which may contribute to the reduced capacity of neutrophil intracellular killing following thermal injury.