Antiglomerular basement membrane (GBM) nephritis with massive albuminuria can be induced in mice by injection of heterologous antibodies against mouse GBM. The albuminuria and the glomerular lesions in this model are not mediated by complement, but are dependent on the presence of polymorphonuclear granulocytes (PMN) in the glomeruli. Neutral serine proteinases and reactive oxygen metabolites produced by activated PMN have been implicated as agents contributing to tissue damage. We examined the role of leukocytic neutral proteinases by comparing the glomerular damage and albuminuria after injection of rabbit anti-mouse GBM antibodies in normal control mice (C57BL/6J, +/+) and in beige mice (C57BL/6J,bg/bg) in which PMN are deficient of the neutral proteinases elastase and cathepsin G. The dose-dependent albuminuria that occurred in control mice after injection of 1.4-22 mg of anti-GBM antibodies was not observed in beige mice, despite a comparable influx of PMNs in the glomeruli. By electron microscopy both strains showed a similar attachment of PMN to the denuded GBM together with swelling and necrosis of endothelial cells. Elastase activity of extracts from PMN of beige mice was only 10-15% of the activity of control mice. In vitro, GBM degradation by PMN extracts of beige mice was 70% lower than that seen in control experiments. PMNs of beige and control mice showed no differences in superoxide production. In addition, administration of scavengers of reactive oxygen metabolites, such as catalase and desferrioxamine, did not prevent the albuminuria in this model. These findings support the important contribution of leukocytic neutral proteinases to the induction of albuminuria in the acute phase of anti-GBM nephritis in the mouse.