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Divergent results have been reported on the effects of lipopolysaccharides (LPS) on the activation of equine polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN). We therefore attempted to determine whether LPS alone can stimulate equine PMN or whether plasma factors are necessary. PMN were isolated from citrated blood on a discontinuous density gradient of Percoll. The luminol (10−3 mol/L)-enhanced chemiluminescence (CL) of 1.25 x 106 cells was measured after addition of Escherichia coli LPS (0.001–10 μg/ml) alone or after incubation in autologous plasma (1 h, 37°C). After direct stimulation with LPS, there were random variations of CL in 16 horses that were not reproducible from one sample to the next for the same horse. LPS which had been incubated in plasma gave a dose-dependent stimulation of the CL of the PMN, which did not occur if the plasma had been heat inactivated (1 h, 56°C). These results indicated a role for plasma factors, which were unlikely to be cytokines, as there were no monocytes or lymphocytes in the plasma incubated with LPS, but might have been complement fragments or LPS ligands, such as LPS binding protein. Studies using specific antibodies against these factors are needed to clarify this question.