Relatively brief bouts of exercise alter gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), but whether exercise changes gene expression in circulating neutrophils (whose numbers, like PBMCs, increase) is not known. We hypothesized that exercise would activate neutrophil genes involved in apoptosis, inflammation, and cell growth and repair, since these functions in leukocytes are known to be influenced by exercise. Blood was sampled before and immediately after 30 min of constant, heavy ( approximately 80% peak O(2) uptake) cycle ergometer exercise in 12 healthy men (19-29 yr old) of average fitness. Neutrophils were isolated using density gradients; RNA was hybridized to Affymetrix U133+2 Genechip arrays. With false discovery rate (FDR) <0.05 with 95% confidence, a total of 526 genes were differentially expressed between before and after exercise. Three hundred and sixteen genes had higher expression after exercise. The Jak/STAT pathway, known to inhibit apoptosis, was significantly activated (EASE score, P < 0.005), but 14 genes were altered in a way likely to accelerate apoptosis as well. Similarly, both proinflammatory (e.g., IL-32, TNFSF8, and CCR5) and anti-inflammatory (e.g., ANXA1) were affected. Growth and repair genes like AREG and FGF2 receptor genes (involved in angiogenesis) were also activated. Finally, a number of neutrophil genes known to be involved in pathological conditions like asthma and arthritis were altered by exercise, suggesting novel links between physical activity and disease or its prevention. In summary, brief heavy exercise leads to a previously unknown substantial and significant alteration in neutrophil gene expression.