Cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 oxygenates arachidonic acid (AA) and 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG) to endoperoxides, which are subsequently transformed to prostaglandins (PGs) and glycerylprostaglandins (PG-Gs). PG-G formation has not been demonstrated in intact cells treated with a physiological agonist. Resident peritoneal macrophages, which express COX-1, were pretreated with lipopolysaccharide to induce COX-2. Addition of zymosan caused release of 2-AG and production of the glyceryl esters of PGE2 and PGI2 over 60 min. The total quantity of PG-Gs (16 +/- 6 pmol/10(7) cells) was much lower than that of the corresponding PGs produced from AA (21,000 +/- 7,000 pmol/10(7) cells). The differences in PG-G and PG production were partially explained by differences in the amounts of 2-AG and AA released in response to zymosan. The selective COX-2 inhibitor, SC236, reduced PG-G and PG production by 49 and 17%, respectively, indicating a significant role for COX-1 in PG-G and especially PG synthesis. Time course studies indicated that COX-2-dependent oxygenation rapidly declined 20 min after zymosan addition. When exogenous 2-AG was added to macrophages, a substantial portion was hydrolyzed to AA and converted to PGs; 1 microm 2-AG yielded 820 +/- 200 pmol of PGs/10(7) cells and 78 +/- 41 pmol of PG-Gs/10(7) cells. SC236 reduced PG-G and PG production from exogenous 2-AG by 88 and 76%, respectively, indicating a more significant role for COX-2 in the utilization of exogenous substrate. In conclusion, lipopolysaccharide-pretreated macrophages produce PG-Gs from endogenous 2-AG during zymosan phagocytosis, but PG-G formation is limited by substrate hydrolysis and inactivation of COX-2.