The effects of nanomaterials (NMs) on biological systems, especially their ability to stimulate inflammatory responses requires urgent investigation. We evaluated the response of the human differentiated HL60 neutrophil-like cell line to NMs. It was hypothesised that NM physico-chemical characteristics would influence cell responsiveness by altering intracellular Ca2+ concentration [Ca2+]i and reactive oxygen species production. Cells were exposed (1.95-125 μg/ml, 24 h) to silver (Ag), zinc oxide (ZnO), titanium dioxide (TiO2), multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) or ultrafine carbon black (ufCB) and cytotoxicity assessed (alamar blue assay). Relatively low (TiO2, MWCNTs, ufCB) or high (Ag, ZnO) cytotoxicity NMs were identified. Sub-lethal impacts of NMs on cell function were investigated for selected NMs only, namely TiO2, Ag and ufCB. Only Ag stimulated cell activation. Within minutes, Ag stimulated an increase in [Ca2+]i (in Fura-2 loaded cells), and a prominent inward ion current (assessed by electrophysiology). Within 2-4 h, Ag increased superoxide anion release and stimulated cytokine production (MCP-1, IL-8) that was diminished by Ca2+ inhibitors or trolox. Light microscopy demonstrated that cells had an activated phenotype. In conclusion NM toxicity was ranked; Ag>ufCB>TiO2, and the battery of tests used provided insight into the mechanism of action of NM toxicity to guide future testing strategies.