The effect of immunosuppressive drugs, 4-aminosalicylic acid (4-ASA), acetyl 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA), and ketotifen on human colonic eicosanoid accumulation was evaluated in view of enhanced accumulation in patients with active ulcerative colitis. Azathioprine (100 micrograms/ml), cyclosporin (100 micrograms/ml), and methotrexate (100 micrograms/ml) significantly inhibited, by 25-35%, prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) accumulation by organ-cultured colonic mucosa of ulcerative colitis patients. Methotrexate was the only immunosuppressive drug that inhibited leukotriene B4 (LTB4) accumulation (50%), whereas azathioprine inhibited the accumulation of leukotriene C4 (LTC4) (25%). 5-ASA and its metabolite, acetyl 5-ASA, inhibited by 20-70% PGE2, LTB4, and LTC4 accumulation in the culture, supporting the contention that acetyl 5-ASA is as active as 5-ASA in these respects. 4-ASA had no effect on any of the eicosanoids. Ketotifen, a mast cell stabilizer, significantly inhibited the accumulation of PGE2, LTB4, and LTC4 by 33-60%. These results suggest a potential, new, unrecognized mode by which the immunomodulators induce part of their therapeutic effects in inflammatory bowel disease and support the contention that acetyl 5-ASA is as active as 5-ASA. The results obtained also indicate that ketotifen, used effectively in the prevention of bronchial asthma, inhibits the accumulation of colonic eicosanoids and, thus, may be of value in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.