The role of PMNs (neutrophils) in corneal herpes was studied using an in vitro system. Human corneal cells (HCE) and macrophages (THP-1) infected with HSV-1 or treated with virus components (DNA or virus immune complexes) released chemokines, which attracted PMNs. Highly reactive oxygen species were detected in PMNs. PMNs inhibited HSV when overlaid onto infected HCE cells (50:1). PMNs incubated with the supernatants of HCE cells treated with virus components released H(2)O(2) and myeloperoxidase. These inhibited virus growth. PMNs released NO and MIG, which may differentiate CD4 T cells to Th1. PMNs participate in innate immune responses, limit virus growth, and initiate immunopathology.