The studies reported here were designed to examine the chemotactic potential, arachidonic acid (AA) metabolism and phospholipid transmethylation in peripheral blood neutrophils from patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA): a) prior to treatment with BW 91Y (3-deazaadenosine), b) after 4 weeks when half the patients were on active medication and half were on placebo, and c) after 4 weeks at which time all patients were on active medication. The authors demonstrate that BW 91Y in vitro at 600 pg/ml caused a decrease in chemotactic potential as measured by the leading front (LF) assay in neutrophils from both normal volunteers (p less than 0.025) and RA patients. They also demonstrate that BW 91Y caused a significant increase in production of [3H]LTB4 (LTB = leukotriene B) in ionophore-stimulated neutrophils from both normal (p less than 0.025) and RA patients (p less than 0.050) as compared to initial values. BW 91Y caused decreased incorporation and percent distribution of [3H]AA into phosphatidylcholine (PC), with a resultant increase in percent distribution into phosphatidylethanolamine (PE). There was also an increased release of [3H]AA from the PE fraction in BW 91Y-treated cells in response to ionophore stimulation. BW 91Y was found to exhibit a dose-dependent (10(-7) to 10(-4) g/ml) inhibition of the uptake and incorporation of L-[methyl-3H]methionine into the cellular lipids, while at low doses (10(-9) to 10(-5) g/ml) it stimulated the significant uptake and incorporation of [methyl-14C]choline chloride into PC. Although the total cellular content and percent composition of PC remained unchanged, it was found that BW 91Y caused a slight decrease in PC plasmalogens and an apparent increase in the 1,2-diacyl-glycerophosphatidylcholine (-GPC). BW 91Y was found, however, to have no effect on the amount or stimulated metabolism of the ether-linked 1-O-alkyl-2-acyl-GPC. As further evidence for this, the authors demonstrate that BW 91Y has no effect on the ionophore-stimulated production of [14C]acetate-labelled 1-O-alkyl-2-acetyl-GPC, or [14C]PAF.