These experiments were designed to evaluate the role of macrophage plasma membrane receptors for the third component of complement (C) and for the Fc portion of IgG in the ingestion phase of phagocytosis. Sheep erythrocyte (E) were coated with anti-E IgG [E(IgG)]; these E(IgG) were then attached to cultivated monolayers of mouse peritoneal macrophages under conditions which reversibly inhibit ingestion of E(IgG). The E(IgG)-macrophage complexes were further incubated under similar conditions with an antimacrophage IgG fraction which blocks Fc receptor-mediated ingestion but has no effect upon ingestion mediated by other phagocytic receptors. When these cultures were subsequently incubated under conditions optimal for particle ingestion, phagocytosis of the IgG-coated erythrocytes did not occur; the erythrocytes remained bound to the Fc receptors of the macrophage plasma membrane. To determine whether ligands must cover the entire surface of an attached particle to permit ingestion of that particle, C-coated E [E(IgM)C] were bound to the C receptors of thioglycollate-induced (activated) macrophages at 4 degrees C. E(IgM)C-macrophage complexes were then trypsinized at 4 degrees C, a procedure which resulted in cleavage of erythrocyte-bound C3b molecules to a form of C3 not recognized by the macrophage receptors for C3b. Under the conditions used, trypsin did not affect the attachment of E(IgM)C to the macrophage surface or the macrophage receptors for C3b. When these trypsin treated E(IgM)C-macrophage complexes were incubated at 37 degrees C, the bound E(IgM)C were not ingested; the erythrocytes remained attached to the macrophage plasma membrane via the macrophage's C receptors. These results indicate that attachment of a particle to specific receptors on the macrophage plasma membrane is not sufficient to trigger ingestion of that particle. Rather, ingestion requires the sequential, circumferential interaction of particle-bound ligands with specific plasma membrane receptors not involved in the initial attachment process.