15(S)-Hydroxy-5,8,11,13-eicosatetraenoic acid (15-HETE) was by far the most abundant metabolite of arachidonic acid in chopped human bronchi, as identified by reverse phase HPLC, uv spectrometry, and GC/MS. The quantitation of monohydroxyeicosatetraenoic acids (mono-HETEs) was performed by the use of 16(S)-hydroxy-9(Z),12(Z),14(E)-heneicosatrienoic acid as internal standard. Thus, significant amounts of 15-HETE were obtained in incubations of bronchi in buffer alone, but the addition of exogenous arachidonic acid (3-100 microM), dose-dependently increased the formation, with maximal levels reached at around 10 min. In contrast, challenge with ionophore A23187 or anti-human IgE did not stimulate the production of 15-HETE in the bronchi. Nordihydroguaiaretic acid inhibited the production of 15-HETE, whereas indomethacin did not. Small amounts of 8,15-diHETEs were detected in incubations with exogenous 15H(P)ETE. Lipoxins were however not detected under any of the incubation conditions used. Furthermore, removal of the airway epithelium substantially diminished the production of 15-HETE in the bronchi. Finally, bronchi were obtained from three patients with asthma, and the amounts of 15-HETE in these specimens were significantly higher than those found in tissues from nonasthmatics. Also, in peripheral lung parenchyma and pulmonary blood vessels 15-HETE was the major mono-HETE after stimulation with arachidonic acid but the levels were about 10 times lower than in the bronchi. As another difference, challenge of the parenchyma with the ionophore A23187 made 5-HETE the predominant mono-HETE. Taken together, airway epithelium appears to be the major source of 15-HETE in the human lung and the findings in specimens of asthmatics raise the possibility that 15-HETE somehow is involved in airway inflammation.