Cells isolated from the rat pleural cavity consist mainly of macrophages, mast cells, eosinophils, and lymphocytes. Isolated pleural cells labeled with [14C]arachidonic acid released appreciable amounts (approximately 12%) of radiolabel upon exposure to pharmacological concentrations of carrageenan (1-100 micrograms/ml). The release of radiolabel was decreased by an inhibitor of phospholipase A2 (p-bromophenacyl bromide) but not by an inhibitor of arachidonate cyclooxygenase (indomethacin). The released products were arachidonic acid and, to a much lesser extent, prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene C4. The release of radiolabel was associated with release of cytosolic lactate dehydrogenase over the same range of carrageenan concentrations. Time-course studies indicated that release of radiolabel preceded that of lactate dehydrogenase. Since p-bromophenacyl bromide blocked stimulated release of radiolabel but did not prevent release of lactate dehydrogenase, it is unlikely that increase in arachidonate causes carrageenan-induced cell damage. Nevertheless, the question of whether the activation of phospholipase A2 in the pleural cells, most probably the macrophages, was sufficient to initiate the carrageenan-induced inflammatory response requires further study. Cytotoxicity which was apparent with as little as 5 micrograms/ml of carrageenan, may have been a significant consequence of carrageenan action.