Resident CD-1 murine peritoneal macrophages were exposed to various concentrations of purified peptidoglycan isolated from members of the genera Bacteroides, Eikenella, and Actinomyces. Macrophage viability, the release of lysozyme, acid phosphatase, and prostaglandins E1 and E2 were assayed as a function of peptidoglycan concentration and time. Macrophages responded as a function of peptidoglycan concentration with increased release of acid phosphatase and prostaglandins; all cells remained greater than 90% viable during the course of the experiments. However, concentrations of peptidoglycan greater than 50 micrograms/mL were toxic to the macrophages, while the peptidoglycan from B. capillus strain 925.08 and Actinomyces viscosus strain T14AV consumed complement by both the classical and the alternate pathways. Cellular lysozyme activity and phagocytosis of Saccharomyces cerevisiae were significantly reduced in the presence of peptidoglycan. When viewed by scanning electron microscopy, the activated macrophages were rounded, lacked distinct pseudopod extensions, and possessed an increased number of microvilli and plasma membrane associated vesicles. These morphological alterations occurred as early as 3 h. Transmission electron microscopy revealed the purified peptidoglycan to have been taken up into numerous phagosomes; however, even after 24 h incubation, it was only partially degraded.