We recently reported the discovery of a series of bioactive prostaglandin F2-like compounds (F2-isoprostanes) that are produced in vivo by free radical-catalyzed peroxidation of arachidonic acid independent of the cyclooxygenase enzyme. Inasmuch as phospholipids readily undergo peroxidation, we examined the possibility that F2-isoprostanes may be formed in situ on phospholipids. Initial support for this hypothesis was obtained by the finding that levels of free F2-isoprostanes measured after hydrolysis of lipids extracted from livers of rats treated with CCl4 to induce lipid peroxidation were more than 100-fold higher than levels in untreated animals. Further, increased levels of lipid-associated F2-isoprostanes in livers of CCl4-treated rats preceded the appearance of free compounds in the circulation, suggesting that the free compounds arose from hydrolysis of peroxidized lipids. This concept was supported by demonstrating that free F2-isoprostanes were released after incubation of lipid extracts with bee venom phospholipase A2 in vitro. When these lipid extracts were analyzed by HPLC, fractions that yielded large quantities of free F2-isoprostanes after hydrolysis eluted at a much more polar retention volume than nonoxidized phosphatidylcholine. Analysis of these polar lipids by fast atom bombardment mass spectrometry established that they were F2-isoprostane-containing species of phosphatidylcholine. Thus, unlike cyclooxygenase-derived prostanoids, F2-isoprostanes are initially formed in situ on phospholipids, from which they are subsequently released preformed, presumably by phospholipases. Molecular modeling of F2-isoprostane-containing phospholipids reveals them to be remarkably distorted molecules. Thus, the formation of these phospholipid species in lipid bilayers may contribute in an important way to alterations in fluidity and integrity of cellular membranes, well-known sequelae of oxidant injury.