When human peripheral blood eosinophils isolated to 92.5% +/- 6.9 purity were stimulated with either the calcium ionophore A23187 or N-formyl-L-methionyl-L-leucyl-L-phenylalanine (FMLP), immunoreactive leukotriene C4 (LTC4) was initially localized intracellularly and was subsequently released to the external medium in kinetically distinguishable steps. Eosinophils were stimulated with 2.5 microM A23187 in the presence of 20 mM L-serine, a hypochlorous acid scavenger that prevents the oxidative metabolism of sulfidopeptide leukotrienes. Total production of immunoreactive LTC4, the sum of intra- and extracellular LTC4, was complete within 5 to 10 min. At 5, 10, and 30 min, 65.9% +/- 15.2, 42.3% +/- 24.3, and 5.5% +/- 3.9, respectively, of the total amount of LTC4 measured remained intracellular as detected after the media and cells were separated and the latter was extracted with methanol. The time course for the intracellular synthesis and extracellular release of immunoreactive LTC4 from eosinophils pretreated with 5 micrograms/ml cytochalasin B and stimulated with 0.5 microM FMLP was like that obtained with ionophore, although the total LTC4 production was only approximately 10%. The identity of the intracellular LTC4 was confirmed by elution with reverse-phase high pressure liquid chromatography followed by scanning UV spectroscopy, radioimmunoassay, and bioassay. Eosinophils that were stimulated with A23187 in the absence of L-serine metabolized newly synthesized LTC4 to 6-trans-LTB4 diastereoisomers and subclass-specific diastereoisomeric sulfoxides that were identified only in the extracellular medium. Thus the response of purified eosinophils to two different stimuli demonstrates a transient intracellular accumulation of biologically active LTC4, the distinct extracellular release, and the apparent limitation of oxidative metabolism to the extracellular location.