Zymosan (non-boiled) induced glycogenolysis biphasically, with no lag time, in the perfused rat liver. After the zymosan was boiled, it could be separated into two fractions, both of which stimulated glycogenolysis independently. The soluble fraction of boiled zymosan (zymosan sup) showed homologous desensitization, indicating that zymosan sup-induced glycogenolysis is a receptor-mediated event. Mannan (polymannose), which is known to be a biologically active component of zymosan, induced a glycogenolytic response similar to that produced by zymosan sup, and desensitized the response to the latter. Preinfusion of platelet-activating factor (PAF, 20 nM) or isoprenaline (10 microM) did not extinguish the glycogenolytic response to zymosan sup, while the response to a secondary infusion of PAF was blocked. The glycogenolytic response to zymosan sup was completely inhibited by nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA, 10 microM), a lipoxygenase inhibitor, and by ONO-1078 (100 ng/ml), a leukotriene (LT) D4 receptor antagonist. On the other hand, the glycogenolytic effect of zymosan pellet (the particulate fraction of boiled zymosan) was not affected by preinfusion of zymosan sup, and was inhibited by ibuprofen (20 microM), a cyclo-oxygenase inhibitor. Prostaglandins (PGs) detected in the perfusate were augmented with infusion of zymosan pellet. Opsonization of the zymosan pellet by serum (complement) enhanced the glycogenolytic response without a lag period, and with a concomitant enhancement of PG output. Correlations between glucose production and PGs were r = 0.832 (PGD2), r = 0.872 (PGF2 alpha), r = 0.752 (PGE2) and r = 0.349 (6-oxo-PGF1 alpha). The glycogenolytic response to non-boiled zymosan was delayed and the biphasic glycogenolytic response was not observed when mannan was infused first. NDGA mimicked the effects of the preinfusion of mannan, while ibuprofen had no effect on the non-boiled-zymosan-induced glycogenolysis. These results suggest: (1) that non-boiled zymosan stimulates glycogenolysis through a mannose receptor-dependent, but unidentified, pathway, (2) that zymosan sup induces glycogenolysis via mannose receptor activation through the production of peptide-LTs but not PAF, and (3) that zymosan pellet causes glycogenolysis through the production of prostanoids, which is enhanced in the presence of complement.