Professional phagocytes, comprising polymorphonuclear neutrophils and monocyte/macrophage cells, play an important role in the host defense. Any defect in their function exposes the organism to microbial intruders terminating in fatal diseases. The functional responses of the phagocytes to bacterial and fungal infections include chemotaxis, actin assembly, migration, adhesion, aggregation, phagocytosis, degranulation, and reactive oxygen species production. Superoxide generation by phagocytic NADPH oxidase is an imperative step toward bacterial killing. Phagocytes participate in inflammatory reactions and exert tumoricidal activity. They are supported by serum factors such as immunoglobulins, cytokines, complement, the acute phase reactant C-reactive protein, production of antibacterial proteins, and others. In addition to their principal task to eliminate bacteria, they are engaged in removing damaged, senescent, and apoptotic cells. Engulfed cell debris, large particles such as latex beads, fat, and oil droplets, are examples of phagocytic activity illustrated in the present review with transmission and scanning electron microscope micrographs. Numerous factors, such as diseases and stressful conditions, affect the engulfing activity of the professional phagocytes. Our experience regarding the impaired phagocytic capacity of cells in patients with diabetes and chronic renal failure is discussed. The results obtained in our laboratory from experiments detecting the effect of strenuous physical exercise, hypothermia, fasting, and abdominal photon irradiation on the phagocytic capacity of human polymorphonuclear neutrophils and rat peritoneal macrophages are hereby summarized and the reports on those subjects in the recent literature are reviewed. A variety of assays are applied for quantifying phagocytosis. Flow cytometry based on incubation of phagocytic cells with fluorescent conjugated particles and measuring the amount of fluorescence as an indicator of the engulfing capacity of the cells is a useful method. A direct visualization of the ingested particles using light or electron microscopy is a valuable tool for estimation of phagocytic function. In our hands, the use of semithin sections of embedded phagocytes following their incubation with latex particles provided satisfactory results for measuring the total number of phagocytic cells, as well as the internalizing capacity of each individual cell. Microbiological assays, the nitroblue tetrazolium test, quantitation of antibody- and antigen-mediated phagocytosis, as well as methods reviewed in detail in other reports are additional applications for determination of this intricate process. Microsc. Res. Tech. 57:421–431, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.