Platelet-activating factor (PAF) binding and metabolism by eight murine and human cell lines was analyzed. Only the murine P388D1 macrophage line had specific, high affinity PAF binding sites. PAF binding reached saturation within 10 min at room temperature and was irreversible. Minimal PAF metabolism was observed at the time binding saturation was achieved. Scatchard analysis of PAF binding revealed a single class of PAF receptors (7872 +/- 1310/cell) which had a dissociation constant of 0.08 +/- 0.01 nM (mean +/- SEM, eta = 6). The dissociation constant was confirmed independently by quantifying the kinetics of initial specific PAF binding. PAF binding was stereospecific, required an sn-2 acetyl substituent, and was inhibited by structurally diverse PAF antagonists including kadsurenone, BN 52021, triazolam, and CV3988. The fact that the receptors are functionally active was shown by the observation that 1 to 100 pM PAF increased free intracellular calcium in P388D1 cells in a dose-related manner. These studies demonstrate that P388D1 macrophages have functional PAF receptors whose affinity and structural specificities are similar to PAF receptors in other cells. The availability of a stable cell line that binds but does not metabolize PAF will greatly facilitate studies of the PAF receptor.