Synthetic high affinity peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) agonists are known, but biologic ligands are of low affinity. Oxidized low density lipoprotein (oxLDL) is inflammatory and signals through PPARs. We showed, by phospholipase A(1) digestion, that PPARgamma agonists in oxLDL arise from the small pool of alkyl phosphatidylcholines in LDL. We identified an abundant oxidatively fragmented alkyl phospholipid in oxLDL, hexadecyl azelaoyl phosphatidylcholine (azPC), as a high affinity ligand and agonist for PPARgamma. [(3)H]azPC bound recombinant PPARgamma with an affinity (K(d)((app)) approximately 40 nm) that was equivalent to rosiglitazone (BRL49653), and competition with rosiglitazone showed that binding occurred in the ligand-binding pocket. azPC induced PPRE reporter gene expression, as did rosiglitazone, with a half-maximal effect at 100 nm. Overexpression of PPARalpha or PPARgamma revealed that azPC was a specific PPARgamma agonist. The scavenger receptor CD36 is encoded by a PPRE-responsive gene, and azPC enhanced expression of CD36 in primary human monocytes. We found that anti-CD36 inhibited azPC uptake, and it inhibited PPRE reporter induction. Results with a small molecule phospholipid flippase mimetic suggest azPC acts intracellularly and that cellular azPC accumulation was efficient. Thus, certain alkyl phospholipid oxidation products in oxLDL are specific, high affinity extracellular ligands and agonists for PPARgamma that induce PPAR-responsive genes.