The conditions under which bacterial endotoxins stimulate arginase production in mouse peritoneal macrophages have been defined. Both lipid-A and lipid-A-associated protein are potent activators. Fetal calf serum and normal mouse serum enhance macrophage arginase levels in the presence and absence of lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS in the amount of 10(-1) microgram/ml represents a maximal stimulus for macrophage arginase production and release. Thioglycollate-elicited peritoneal cells have increased arginase activity, compared with resident cells. This activity can be stimulated further by the addition of LPS. Arginase levels may alter the outcome of in vitro immunologic processes by depleting arginine and may also serve as a useful indicator of the state of activation of macrophages.