We have previously reported that lipopolysaccharide (LPS) binding protein (LBP) opsonizes endotoxin (LPS) for recognition by CD14 on phagocytes. Here we show that normal human plasma contains high titers of an activity that also binds LPS (Re, 595) and mediates recognition by CD14. Opsonization of LPS-coated particles with plasma enables the particles to be bound by phagocytes. Further, opsonization with plasma also enables subnanogram-per-milliliter concentrations of LPS to induce dramatic alterations in the function of leukocyte integrins on polymorphonuclear leukocytes and to induce secretion of tumor necrosis factor by monocytes, suggesting that opsonization by factors in plasma may be important in responses of cells to endotoxin. The opsonic activity in plasma appears distinct from LBP since it is not blocked by neutralizing antibodies against LBP. Surprisingly, the opsonic activity of plasma is not present in a single protein species, but at least two species must be combined to observe activity. Further, the opsonic activity of plasma for LPS is blocked by addition of protease inhibitors, suggesting that proteolytic activity or activities are required for opsonization. These properties are suggestive of the action of a protease cascade, but opsonic activity of plasma is not affected by blockade or depletion of either the complement or clotting cascades. We propose the name "septin" to describe this novel LPS-opsonizing activity in plasma.