In bacterial empyema, the recruited polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) represent important phagocytic cells involved in antibacterial defense. In this study we demonstrate that pleural fluids (PF) obtained from patients with empyema (EMP) contains significantly higher levels of granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF), and PMN incubated in empyema (EMP) pleural fluid (PF) showed significantly less apoptosis than congestive heart failure (CHF) PF. Staphylococcus aureus-stimulated PMC released significantly (P < 0.001) higher levels of GM-CSF than resting PMC. Staphylococcus aureus-stimulated PMC (SPMC)-CM significantly (P < 0.001) inhibited PMN apoptosis. In SPMC-CM-incubated PMN the antiapoptotic gene Bcl-χL mRNA and protein expression was up-regulated; Bak mRNA and protein expression was down-regulated compared to control PMN. The active caspases activity significantly decreased. When SPMC-CM and EMP PF were immunodepleted with GM-CSF antibody, PMN apoptosis was significantly higher. The delay in apoptosis of PMN is in part attributable to the release of cytokine GM-CSF by activated PMC. These findings suggest that S. aureus-activated PMC extend PMN life span by modulating Bcl-χL and Bak gene expression and active caspases activity during acute inflammation and empyema.