BACKGROUND: Neutrophils have been shown to play a role in host defence against highly virulent and mouse-adapted strains of influenza virus, however it is not clear if an effective neutrophil response is an important factor moderating disease severity during infection with other virus strains. In this study, we have examined the role of neutrophils during infection of mice with influenza virus strain HKx31, a virus strain of the H3N2 subtype and of moderate virulence for mice, to determine the role of neutrophils in the early phase of infection and in clearance of influenza virus from the respiratory tract during the later phase of infection. METHODS: The anti-Gr-1 monoclonal antibody (mAb) RB6-8C5 was used to (i) identify neutrophils in the upper (nasal tissues) and lower (lung) respiratory tract of uninfected and influenza virus-infected mice, and (ii) deplete neutrophils prior to and during influenza virus infection of mice. RESULTS: Neutrophils were rapidly recruited to the upper and lower airways following influenza virus infection. We demonstrated that use of mAb RB6-8C5 to deplete C57BL/6 (B6) mice of neutrophils is complicated by the ability of this mAb to bind directly to virus-specific CD8+ T cells. Thus, we investigated the role of neutrophils in both the early and later phases of infection using CD8+ T cell-deficient B6.TAP-/- mice. Infection of B6.TAP-/- mice with a low dose of influenza virus did not induce clinical disease in control animals, however RB6-8C5 treatment led to profound weight loss, severe clinical disease and enhanced virus replication throughout the respiratory tract. CONCLUSION: Neutrophils play a critical role in limiting influenza virus replication during the early and later phases of infection. Furthermore, a virus strain of moderate virulence can induce severe clinical disease in the absence of an effective neutrophil response.