Lipoxin A (5,6,15L-trihydroxy-7,9,11,13-eicosatetraenoic acid) and lipoxin B (5D,14,15-trihydroxy-6,8,10,12-eicosatetraenoic acid), two newly isolated compounds derived from the oxygenation of arachidonic acid in human leukocytes, inhibit the cytotoxic activity of human natural killer (NK) cells. Dose-response studies showed that both lipoxin A and lipoxin B inhibit, at submicromolar concentrations (ID50 10(-7) M), NK cell activity assayed against K562 target cells. Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) also inhibited cytotoxicity, whereas both 15-HETE (5(S)-hydroxy-5,8,11,13-eicosatetraenoic acid) and leukotriene B4 (synthetic and biologically derived) were ineffective. PGE2 stimulated a time- and dose-dependent increase in intracellular cAMP, which was accompanied by a decrease in NK target cell binding. Lipoxin A and lipoxin B did not elevate intracellular cAMP, nor did they inhibit target cell binding. Together these findings suggest that lipoxin A and lipoxin B abrogate NK cell cytotoxicity at a step distal to target effector cell recognition. In contrast, PGE2 appears to exert its effect, at least in part, on cytotoxicity indirectly by decreasing the binding between target and effector cells (in vitro). Moreover, they suggest that novel oxygenated derivatives of arachidonic acid (i.e., lipoxin A, lipoxin B) may regulate the activities of NK cells.