The deterioration of the immune system with ageing, which leads to an increased morbidity and mortality from infections, appears to be related to decreases in specific lymphocyte functions. However, the alteration of non-specific immunity is a more controversial subject. Our purpose was to investigate the age-related changes of different functions of the non-specific immune response in peritoneal macrophages (adherence to tissues, mobility directed to a chemical gradient from an infectious focus or chemotaxis, phagocytosis of foreign agents and destruction of these agents by superoxide anion production) and in lymphocytes (adherence and chemotaxis) from peritoneum, axillary lymph nodes, spleen and thymus. We used young (12 weeks), adult (22 weeks), mature (48 weeks) and old (72 weeks) female BALB/c mice. The adherence capacity of macrophages and lymphocytes was greater in adult and old mice than in young animals. The chemotaxis of macrophages showed higher values in cells from young mice than in those from adult mice, increasing again in macrophages from mature and old animals. A similar behaviour was shown by phagocytosis, which reached its highest values in old animals. Anion superoxide production increased with age and again the highest values were obtained in the oldest mice. Conversely, chemotaxis of lymphocytes was higher in the adult and mature animals than in the young and old animals. We conclude that, although there is a decrease in lymphocyte chemotaxis in old animals, the non-specific immune response of macrophages instead of decreasing, may increase in aged mice with respect to the values seen in adult mice. Experimental Physiology (2000) 85.5, 519-525.