1. We have investigated the effects of salmeterol (0.3-50 microM) on several pro-inflammatory activities of human neutrophils in vitro. 2. Oxidant production by FMLP- and calcium ionophore (A23187)-activated neutrophils was particularly sensitive to inhibition by low concentrations (0.3-3 microM) of salmeterol, while the responses of phorbol myristate acetate- and opsonised zymosan-stimulated cells were affected only by higher concentrations (3-50 microM) of the drug. At these concentrations salmeterol is not cytotoxic, nor does it act as a scavenger of superoxide. 3. These anti-oxidative interactions of salmeterol with neutrophils were insensitive to propranolol but could be eliminated by washing the cells, or by pretreatment with low concentrations (1-2 microM) of the pro-oxidative, membrane-destabilizing phospholipids, lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC), platelet activating factor (PAF) and lysoPAF (LPAF). 4. At concentrations of 6.25-50 microM salmeterol interfered with several other activities of stimulated neutrophils, including intracellular calcium fluxes, phospholipase A2 activity and synthesis of PAF. 5. In an assay of membrane-stabilizing activity, salmeterol (25 and 50 microM) neutralized the haemolytic action of LPC, PAF and LPAF. 6. Of the other commonly used beta 2-adrenoceptor agonists, fenoterol, and formoterol, but not salbutamol, caused moderate inhibition of neutrophil oxidant generation by a superoxide-scavenging mechanism. However, unlike salmeterol, these agents possessed only weak membrane stabilizing properties. 7. We conclude that salmeterol antagonizes the pro-inflammatory, pro-oxidative activity of several bioactive lipids implicated in the pathogenesis of bronchial asthma, by a mechanism related to the membrane-stabilizing, rather than to the beta 2-agonist properties of this agent.