Neutrophil activation is thought to play a crucial role in the pathogenesis of sepsis. During activation, neutrophils adhere to and migrate through the endothelium. Therefore, the amount of circulating neutrophils does not adequately reflect the total amount of neutrophils that are involved in the pathophysiologic process of this condition. In this study we test the hypothesis that the severity of sepsis is associated with the total body mass of neutrophils as reflected in the plasma concentration of soluble Fcγ receptor type III (sFcγRIII). Nineteen patients with sepsis (12 male, seven female, median age of 69 years, range 29-87 years) were included in this study. Ten healthy volunteers served as controls. Plasma sFcγRIII concentrations were measured by ELISA. Other parameters that were studied were leucocyte count, plasma concentrations of lactoferrin and soluble L-selectin, and surface expression of CD11b and CD66b on circulating neutrophils. Disease activity was measured using the Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) II score. Soluble FcγRIII levels were elevated in sepsis patients whereas soluble L-selectin levels were moderately decreased compared with healthy controls. Markers of cell activation were significantly increased in sepsis patients. Soluble FcγRIII correlated with disease severity as measured by the APACHE score (P < 0·05, r = 0·53), whereas the other parameters did not correlate with the APACHE score. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that soluble FcγRIII is a useful marker for disease severity in patients with sepsis.