The leukotrienes are inflammatory mediators derived from arachidonic acid. It was demonstrated that the priming of leukocytes with phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate (PMA) leads to the increased formation of 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO) products in parallel with the increased association of 5-LO with the nucleus and the activation of kinases that can phosphorylate 5-LO in vitro. Stimulation of the monocytic cell line Mono Mac 6 with calcium ionophore gave low 5-LO product formation and no detectable redistribution of 5-LO. However, after priming of Mono Mac 6 cells with phorbol esters, ionophore led to the association of 45% to 75% of cellular 5-LO with the nuclear membrane, to 5-LO kinase activation, to enhanced release of arachidonate, and to substantial leukotriene synthesis. Similar results were obtained for human polymorphonuclear leukocytes stimulated with low-dose ionophore. In addition, for each cell type, PMA priming up-regulated leukotriene biosynthesis in the presence of exogenous arachidonic acid. A protein kinase inhibitor, calphostin C, reduced the association of 5-LO with the nucleus and 5-LO kinase activity, and the formation of 5-LO products was inhibited. These results suggest that PMA up-regulates leukotriene biosynthesis not only by increasing the release of endogenous arachidonate, but also by increasing the capacity for 5-LO phosphorylation and for the translocation of 5-LO to the nucleus in leukocytes.