The occurrence of a 14-kDa secretory phospholipase A2 (PLA2) in guinea pig alveolar macrophages (AM) and its relationship with the release of arachidonic acid (AA) were investigated. Freshly collected AM showed no detectable PLA2 activity as measured by the in vitro hydrolysis of phosphatidic acid. However, the PLA2 activity increased progressively when AM were maintained in culture to reach a level 60- to 100-fold greater than basal values within 20 h, with a parallel secretion into the incubation medium. By contrast, the activities of other phospholipid-hydrolyzing enzymes (platelet-activating factor acetylhydrolase and lysophospholipase) were modified only marginally. Both intra- and extracellular increases of PLA2 activity were abrogated with actinomycin D or cycloheximide. The enhanced PLA2 activity preferentially hydrolyzed negatively charged phospholipids in the order phosphatidic acid > phosphatidylglycerol > phosphatidylethanolamine > phosphatidylcholine, had an optimum pH of 7.5, and required a millimolar Ca2+ concentration for optimal activity and an apparent molecular mass of 14 kDa. Taken together, these results suggest that cultured AM elaborate an enzyme similar to the group II PLA2. On the other hand, our results show that AM hydrolyzed exogenous 2-arachidonoyl phosphatidylcholine and released AA and metabolites on FMLP stimulation. However, in contrast to the increase observed in the activity of the 14-kDa PLA2, the enzymatic activity involved in the hydrolysis of 2-arachidonoyl phosphatidylcholine and AA release remained constant with the culture duration of AM. Finally, dexamethasone markedly inhibited the increase of PLA2 activity, but only marginally inhibited the release of AA and metabolites from FMLP-stimulated AM. We conclude that guinea pig AM elaborate a 14-kDa PLA2 similar to the group II PLA2 through RNA- and protein synthesis-dependent processes. This elaboration appears to be induced by the adhesion of AM and is clearly dissociated from the liberation of AA.