In previous studies conducted in rats and in women, we have shown that oral contraceptive (OC) administration induced a platelet hyperaggregation simultaneously with an increased platelet lipid biosynthesis which might be related to lipid peroxidation. In the present study, we specifically studied the arachidonic acid and the fibrinolytic pathways in relation to the fatty acid composition in female rats treated for 6 weeks with OC (ethinyl estradiol plus lynestrenol). We found that platelets of treated animals were not only hyper-responsive to thrombin and ADP, but also to sodium arachidonate. In addition, the results of the thrombin-induced release of labeled arachidonic acid pre-incorporated into platelet membrane phospholipids showed an increased biosynthesis of lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase metabolites after OC treatment. These data indicated a stimulated platelet arachidonate metabolism in OC animals compared to controls which was further confirmed by the increased thrombin-induced production of thromboxane B2 (TXB2) as measured with a radioimmunoassay. The platelet thrombin-stimulated TXB2 biosynthesis was inhibited in vitro in the presence of 500 mu M aspirin and 1 mM vitamin E; the erythrocytes from OC animals compared with controls presented an enhanced in vitro susceptibility to free radical-induced hemolysis. These data indicated that a free radical mediated-process might occur. This hypothesis is confirmed by an increase of plasma lipid peroxidation parameters (conjugated dienes, lipid peroxides, thiobarbituric acid reactive substances). After OC-treatment, a decrease in plasma and platelet long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly (n-3), is in keeping with this idea. Furthermore, the results of the peritoneal macrophage-dependent fibrinolytic activity indicated that OC induced a drastic decrease in urokinase plasminogen activator activity which might further contribute to the platelet hyperactivity. Altogether these data suggest that besides the reported increase in clotting factors, platelet hyperactivity, possibly through a stimulated free radical-induced arachidonic acid metabolism, might be involved in the known high thrombogenic risk observed in OC users.