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We have examined receptors mediating phagocytosis of the intracellular bacterial pathogen, Legionella pneumophila. Three mAbs against the type 3 complement receptor (CR3), which recognizes C3bi, inhibit adherence of L. pneumophila to monocytes by 64 +/- 8% to 74 +/- 11%. An mAb against the type 1 complement receptor (CR1), which recognizes C3b, inhibits adherence by 68 +/- 1%. mAbs against other monocyte surface antigens do not significantly influence adherence. Monocytes plated on substrates of L. pneumophila membranes modulate their CR1 and CR3 receptors but not Fc receptors; such monocytes bind 70% fewer C3b- coated erythrocytes and 53% fewer C3bi-coated erythrocytes than control monocytes. Adherence of L. pneumophila to monocytes in nonimmune sera is dependent on heat-labile serum opsonins; adherence is markedly reduced in heat-inactivated serum (84% reduction) or buffer alone (97% reduction) compared with fresh serum. mAbs against CR1 and CR3 receptors also inhibit L. pneumophila intracellular multiplication and protect monocyte monolayers from destruction by this bacterium. This study demonstrates that human monocyte complement receptors, CR1 and CR3, mediate phagocytosis of L. pneumophila. These receptors may play a general role in mediating phagocytosis of intracellular pathogens.