To elucidate the innate immune responses to group A streptococci (GAS) important in the pathophysiology of sepsis, flow cytometric techniques were applied to study the effects of live and heat-inactivated GAS, including their particulate and soluble components, on the expression of leukocyte adhesion molecules CD11b (Mac-1) and CD62L (L-selectin), and leukocyte production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in human whole blood. GAS caused marked time- and concentration-dependent increases in CD11b and ROS, while CD62L was downregulated. Live and heat-inactivated GAS induced similar changes in leukocyte adhesion molecules, whereas ROS production induced by heat-inactivated GAS (and its particulate fraction) was 4 (2.5)-fold higher than with live GAS. Leukocyte nitric oxide production (24 h) was not enhanced. Although GAS proved a more potent inducer of ROS production, leukocyte responses to GAS were similar to those reported for lipolysaccharides, indicating that Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria activate common pathways in the inflammatory response. High ROS production may contribute to tissue damage caused by GAS.