Incubation of homogenates of the rat cerebral cortex with arachidonic acid led to the appearance of hepoxilin A3, analysed as its stable trihydroxy derivative, trioxilin A3, by high resolution gas chromatography/electron impact mass spectrometry. Using the stable deuterium isotope dilution technique, it is estimated that the cerebral cortex generates 5.0 +/- 0.2 ng/mg protein of hepoxilin A3. The formation of this product was stimulated by the addition of exogenous arachidonic acid (12.9 +/- 1.5 ng/mg protein) and blocked by boiling of the tissue. Addition of the dual cyclooxygenase/lipoxygenase inhibitor BW 755C at a concentration of 75 microM did not result in a blockade of hepoxilin formation. Three other regions were also tested for their ability to form hepoxilin A3 upon stimulation with exogenous arachidonic acid, i.e. median eminence, 11.7 +/- 1.6 ng/mg protein, pituitary, 12.3 +/- 0.7 ng/mg protein; pons, 26.6 +/- 0.2 ng/mg protein. In a separate study, 14C-labelled hepoxilin A3 was transformed into 14C-labelled trioxilin A3 by homogenates of the rat whole brain, demonstrating the presence of epoxide hydrolases in the CNS which utilise the hepoxilins as substrates. This is the first demonstration of the occurrence of the hepoxilin pathway in the central nervous system.