Enucleated human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) were prepared by centrifuging isolated, intact PMN over a discontinuous Ficoll gradient that contained 20 microM cytochalasin B. The enucleated cells (PMN cytoplasts) contained about one-third of the plasma membrane and about one-half of the cytoplasm present in intact PMN. The PMN cytoplasts contained no nucleus and hardly any granules. The volume of the PMN cytoplasts was about one-fourth of that of the original PMN. Greater than 90% of the PMN cytoplasts had an "outside-out" topography of the plasma membrane. Cytoplasts prepared from resting PMN did not generate superoxide radicals (O2-) or hydrogen peroxide. PMN cytoplasts incubated with opsonized zymosan particles or phorbol-myristate acetate induced a respiratory burst that was qualitatively (O2 consumption, O2- and H2O2 generation) and quantitatively (per unit area of plasma membrane) comparable with that of intact, stimulated PMN. Moreover, at low ratios of bacteria/cells, PMN cytoplasts ingested opsonized Staphylococcus aureus bacteria as well as did intact PMN. At higher ratios, the cytoplasts phagocytosed less well. The killing of these bacteria by PMN cytoplasts was slower than by intact cells. The chemotactic activity of PMN cytoplasts was very low. These results indicate that the PMN apparatus for phagocytosis, generation of bactericidal oxygen compounds, and killing of bacteria, as well as the mechanism for recognizing opsonins and activating PMN functions, are present in the plasma membrane and cytosol of these cells.