The effects of substituted catechols (3-methylcatechol, 4-methylcatechol, 4-nitrocatechol, and guaiacol) and trihydroxybenzenes (pyrogallol, propyl gallate, 1,2,4-trihydroxybenzene, and 1,3,5-trihydroxybenzene) on the synthesis of prostaglandin (PG)E2 and leukotriene (LT)B4 were tested in human A23187-stimulated polymorphonuclear leukocytes. The effects were related to their peroxyl-radical-scavenging (antioxidant), superoxide-scavenging (antioxidant), and superoxide-generating (prooxidant) properties. In general, compounds with hydroxyl groups in the ortho position increased PGE2/LTB4 ratio, and compounds with hydroxyl groups in the meta position decreased PGE2/LTB4 ratio. Catechols, which have hydroxyl groups in the ortho position, were the most potent peroxyl radical and superoxide anion scavengers. Trihydroxybenzenes (pyrogallol, 1,2,4-trihydroxybenzene, and 1,3,5-trihydroxybenzene) generated superoxide, whereas dihydroxybenzenes did not. Thus, the positions and number of hydroxyl groups seem to be the most important properties determining the action of phenolic compounds on PGE2/LTB4 ratio and their antioxidant/prooxidant activities.