Mouse resident peritoneal macrophages synthesize two plasminogen activator-specific inhibitors (PAI) that are functionally and antigenically related, but differ in their apparent Mr and oligosaccharide content. Most of the Mr 40,000 inhibitor can be recovered from the cell lysate, whereas the Mr 55,000 glycosylated PAI is preferentially secreted. The murine macrophage PAI are functionally similar and immunologically related to PAI synthesized and secreted by human monocytes-macrophages, and to a PAI from human placenta (PAI-2). PAI production by murine mononuclear phagocytes can be modulated both in vivo and in vitro. Bone marrow-derived macrophages do not produce detectable PAI, whereas inflammatory macrophages obtained from thioglycollate-induced peritoneal exudates produce only low levels of PAI. In cultures of resident peritoneal macrophages, phorbol myristate acetate and cholera toxin increase the synthesis of the Mr 55,000 secreted PAI, whereas dexamethasone decreases the synthesis of both PAI; the production of PAI is also enhanced in the presence of macrophage colony-stimulating factor (CSF-1). The overall proteolytic activity of mononuclear phagocytes thus depends in part on the controlled synthesis and secretion of PAI. The balance between the production of plasminogen activators and of their inhibitors could be critical in determining the level of plasminogen-dependent extracellular proteolysis associated with different phases of the inflammatory response.