Substantial effects of dietary fish oil-derived fatty acid ethyl esters on the metabolism of diradylglycerol (DG) have recently been described. We undertook to isolate the separate effects of (n-3) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and (n-3) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) on DG metabolism. For 3 wk, male C57BL/6 mice were fed one of six purified diets in which the lipid component was either 3 g/100 g corn oil ethyl ester (COEE) (control diet) or 1 g/100 g COEE plus 2 g/100 g of EPA ethyl ester (EPEE), DHA ethyl ester (DHEE) or an EPEE:DHEE mixture. Peritoneal macrophages were analyzed for DG content and for molecular species distributions of DG and phospholipid classes. We found that the degree of incorporation of EPA and DHA into DG in macrophages was dependent on the dietary concentration of EPEE and DHEE, under basal conditions and after stimulation with platelet-activating factor, phorbol myristate acetate and ionomycin. Incorporation of EPA and DHA into phospholipids was also significant and dose dependent in each phospholipid class. For both DG and phospholipid molecular species, the incorporation of EPA in the sn-2 position was considerably greater than that of species with DHA under conditions of equimolar dietary content. These results demonstrate that 1) incorporation of EPA and DHA into DG are independent and dependent on dietary content, 2) EPA is incorporated with greater affinity than DHA and 3) these effects on DG metabolism seem to result from corresponding effects on parent membrane phospholipids. Physiologically and therapeutically relevant differences may exist between EPA and DHA.