We used rat skin membranes to test the putative role of prostaglandins (PG) and essential fatty acids (EFA) in the penetration response of Schistosoma mansoni cercariae. To examine the effects of EFA on cercarial penetration an EFA-deficient rat model was used. Dams were fed an EFA-deficient diet during lactation and the pups were weaned to this diet. Cercarial penetration of EFA-deficient rat skin membranes was not reduced from control levels until 12 wk on the diet. At this time a decrease of 64.3% was observed. This decrease remained constant up to 16 wk, after which the study was terminated. Other normal rats were treated with 20 mg/kg ibuprofen, a PG inhibitor, to examine the role of PG in the penetration response. Treated rat skin contained a mean of 2 micrograms ibuprofen per 30 mm3 of skin (25-mm skin disc) at 1.5 hours post-injection. Skin from treated rats inhibited penetration by over 81%. These studies indicate that skin EFA and PG may have a critical role in the completeness of penetration by cercariae through the skin, although it is not clear whether cercarial or host PG are involved in the penetration response.