The implication of leukotrienes as mediators of inflammation and recent evidence that prostaglandin analogues provide a beneficial effect during experimental colitis led to the speculation that (i) leukotrienes may be injurious and (ii) prostaglandins may be protective to colonic mucosa. Using a 2% acetic acid induced rat colitis model, we administered specific cyclooxygenase (indomethacin) and leukotriene biosynthesis inhibitors (MK-886) to examine the effect of endogenous prostaglandins and leukotrienes on colonic macroscopic injury, mucosal inflammation as measured by myeloperoxidase activity, net in vivo intestinal fluid absorption, and colonic PGE2 and LTB4 levels as measured by in vivo rectal dialysis. Indomethacin treatment prior to induction of colitis reduced endogenous mucosal PGE2 levels and exacerbated macroscopic ulceration and net fluid absorption. Addition of the exogenous PGE1 analogue misoprostol to the indomethacin-exacerbated colitis completely healed colonic macroscopic ulceration and inflammation but only partially improved fluid absorptive injury. The specific leukotriene biosynthesis inhibitor MK-886 administered prior to induction of colitis healed macroscopic ulceration and inflammation but not fluid absorptive injury. This mucosal reparative effect of MK-886 occurred at a dose that reduced colonic LTB4 synthesis while concomitantly enhancing PGE2 levels. Combining MK-886 with misoprostol treatment improved not only macroscopic ulceration and inflammation but also provided a synergistic effect that maintained net colonic fluid absorption at noncolitic control levels. These studies suggest that, during the induction of experimental colitis, endogenous prostaglandins play a pivotal role in providing a mucosal healing effect, and that leukotriene biosynthesis inhibitor may manifest part of its beneficial effect by shifting arachidonic acid metabolism towards production of prostaglandins.