Macrophage infiltration is important in the pathogenesis of acute proliferative glomerulonephritis (gn). The state of activation of macrophages during gn may be central to their role in injury. To study this, a method for extracting macrophages from nephritic glomeruli in active in situ gn was developed. MHC Class II (Ia) antigen expression, superoxide (O2-) generation, and eicosanoid synthesis were compared with thioglycollate elicited peritoneal macrophages (TEM). At the height of inflammation there were 407 +/- 83 macrophages/glomerulus. Compared with TEM, Ia expression, and in vitro production of O2- were enhanced. Synthesis of prostaglandin E2 was greatly reduced (day 6 gn, 62 +/- 10 ng/mg; TEM 663 +/- 128 ng/mg cell protein). Thromboxane synthesis was relatively conserved (day 6 gn, 109 +/- 28 ng/mg; TEM 201 +/- 53 ng/mg). Leukotriene B4 (LTB4) was undetectable (day 6 gn, less than 13 ng/mg; TEM 119 +/- 56 ng/mg). This large influx of activated macrophages in glomeruli may be fundamental to pathogenesis of glomerular inflammation.