We have recently reported that lipase may play a role in the pathogenesis of acute pancreatitis by its ability to release fatty acids from triglycerides. The aim of this study was to further investigate the effect of lipase and its various digestive products on the integrity of isolated pancreatic rat acini. Pancreatic acini were prepared by collagenase digestion and their newly synthesized proteins labeled with 35S-methionine. Acini were later incubated in buffer to which various factors were added: Products of lipolytic digestion, such as various fatty acids and monoglycerides, fat tissue, nonactivated or trypsin activated homogenized pancreatic tissue, and a specific lipase inhibitor (THL, tetrahydrolipstatin). Cellular destruction was quantified by the degree of radiolabeled proteins released. Short chain fatty acids and monoglycerides (up to C-12) caused cellular destruction, whereas long chain fatty acids and their respective monoglycerides were not harmful. With regard to unsaturated fatty acids, long chain fatty acids (C-18 to C-22) were also able to destroy cells. The degree of cellular necrosis correlated with incubation time and fatty acid concentration. The cellular damage caused by incubation of acini with either inactive or trypsin activated pancreatic homogenates together with triglycerides could be completely inhibited by the specific lipase inhibitor THL. Bile alone caused no damage. When bile was combined with activated-pancreatic homogenates, about 25% of newly synthesized proteins were released by acini within 30 min. Incubation with a combination out of bile activated pancreatic homogenates and triglycerides resulted in the most pronounced damage. This acinar destruction could only be partly inhibited by THL. These studies suggest that both lipase and phospholipase-A2 may play an important role in the pathogenesis of acinar cell destruction.