In the present study, the effects of feeding mice diets of different fatty acid compositions on the production of TNF-alpha and nitric oxide by lipopolysaccharide-stimulated peritoneal macrophages and on macrophage-mediated cytotoxicity towards L929 and P815 cells were investigated. C57Bl6 mice were fed on a low-fat (LF) diet or on high-fat diets (21% fat by weight), which included coconut oil (CO), olive oil (OO), safflower oil (SO) or fish oil (FO) as the principal fat source. The fatty acid composition of the macrophages was markedly influenced by that of the diet fed. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated macrophages from FO-fed mice showed significantly lower production (up to 80%) of PGE2 than those from mice fed on each of the other diets. There was a significant positive linear correlation between the proportion of arachidonic acid in macrophage lipids and the ability of macrophages, to produce PGE2. Lipopolysaccharide-stimulated TNF-alpha production by macrophages decreased with increasing unsaturated fatty acid content of the diet (i.e. FO < SO < OO < CO < LF). Macrophages from FO-fed mice showed significantly lower production of TNF-alpha than those from mice fed on each of the other diets. Nitrite production was highest for LPS-stimulated macrophages from mice fed on the LF diet. Macrophages from FO-fed mice showed significantly higher production of nitrite than those from mice fed on the OO and SO diets. Compared with feeding the LF diet, feeding the CO, OO or SO diets significantly decreased macrophage- mediated killing of P815 cells (killed by nitric oxide). Fish oil feeding did not alter killing of P815 cells by macrophages, compared with feeding the LF diet; killing of P815 cells was greater after FO feeding than after feeding the other high fat diets. Compared with feeding the LF diet, feeding the OO or SO diets significantly decreased macrophage-mediated killing of L929 cells (killed by TNF). Coconut oil or FO feeding did not alter killing of L929 cells by macrophages, compared with feeding the LF diet. It is concluded that the type of fat in the diet affects macrophage composition and alters the ability of macrophages to produce cytotoxic and immunoregulatory mediators and to kill target tumour cells.