The ATCC type strain and six clinical isolates of Campylobacter rectus were tested for toxicity against HL-60 cells and human polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs). After challenge with bacterial cell suspensions and media supernatants for up to 4 h, eukaryotic cell viability was assayed by trypan blue dye exclusion and lactate dehydrogenase release. Cells of the C. rectus type strain were not toxic. However, ethanol and (NH4)2SO4 extracts of culture media supernatants killed HL-60 cells in a time and dose dependent manner with 700 micrograms of supernatant protein killing 100% of HL-60 cells in 4 h. Concentrated media supernatants from clinical isolates also killed 100% of HL-60 cells in 30 to 60 min. The bacterial culture supernatants were toxic to PMNs with clinical isolates killing 70 to 90% of PMNs in 2 to 4 h. SDS-PAGE and immunoblot analysis of the toxic media supernatants revealed C. rectus specific proteins and lipopolysaccharide (LPS). The toxic activity was inhibited by protease, indicating that the toxin was protein. Non-toxic and toxic media supernatants were obtained by altering hemin and fumarate in the growth media. SDS-PAGE analysis of these revealed that all toxic supernatants contained a 104 kDa protein.