Oxidation of phospholipids results in chain-shortened fragments and oxygenated derivatives of polyunsaturated sn-2 fatty acyl residues, generating a myriad of phospholipid products. Certain oxidation products of phosphatidylcholine bind to and activate the human receptor for PAF, and these PAF-like lipids are potent, selective inflammatory mediators. Formation of PAF-like lipids is nonenzymatic and so their accumulation is unregulated. PAF-like lipids are produced in vivo in response to oxidative stresses and are responsible for attendant acute inflammatory responses. PAF-like lipids almost exclusively contain an ether-linked alkyl residue at the sn-1 position of the phosphatidylcholine backbone and molecular identification of these is facilitated by phospholipase A(1) treatment to remove the bulk of the inactive phospholipids. The identity of biologically active species generated by oxidative fragmentation and oxidation can be elucidated by understanding relevant reactions leading to the formation of PAF-like lipids, and then their structure can be established by tandem mass spectrometry and chemical synthesis.