Peritoneal macrophages (PM), obtained from 39 healthy women with normal laparoscopy findings, were stimulated with the ionophore A23187 or/and arachidonic acid (AA) both in adherence and in suspension. AA lipoxygenase metabolites were determined by reversed-phase HPLC. The major metabolites identified were 5-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (5-HETE), leukotriene (LT)B4 and LTC4. The 20-hydroxy-LTB4, 20-carboxy-LTB4, and 15-HETE were not detected. Incubations of adherent PM with 2 microM A23187 induced the formation of LTB4, 110 +/- 19 pmol/10(6) cells, 5-HETE, 264 +/- 53 pmol/10(6) cells and LTC4, 192 +/- 37 pmol/10(6) cells. When incubated with 30 microM exogenous AA, adherent PM released similar amounts of 5-HETE (217 +/- 67 pmol/10(6) cells), but sevenfold less LTC4 (27 +/- 12 pmol/10(6) cells) (p less than 0.01). In these conditions LTB4 was not detectable. These results indicate that efficient LT synthesis in PM requires activation of the 5-lipoxygenase/LTA4 synthase, as demonstrated previously for blood phagocytes. When stimulated with ionophore, suspensions of Ficoll-Paque-purified PM produced the same lipoxygenase metabolites. The kinetics of accumulation of the 5-lipoxygenase/LTA4 synthase products in A23187-stimulated adherent cells varied for the various metabolites. LTB4 reached a plateau by 5 min, whereas LTC4 levels increased up to 60 min, the longest incubation time studied. Levels of 5-HETE were maximal at 5 min, and then slowly decreased with time. Thus, normal PM, in suspension or adherence, have the capacity to produce significant amounts of 5-HETE, LTB4, and LTC4. The profile of lipoxygenase products formed by the PM and the reactivity of this cell to AA and ionophore A23187 are similar to those of the human blood monocyte, but different from those of the human alveolar macrophage.