The rabbit reticulocyte lipoxygenase is known to display an unusual facility for oxygenation of esterified polyunsaturated fatty acids, yet the precise structures of the products are not known. With free arachidonate as substrate the enzyme is known to catalyze 15S and 12S oxygenations, and demonstration of a facility for catalysis of these reactions on phospholipids would extend the potential scope of lipoxygenase reactions in cells. We elected to study in detail the reaction of the enzyme with a natural phospholipid, palmitoyl/arachidonoyl-phosphatidylcholine. We determined the nature of the products by initial isolation by RP-HPLC, followed by transesterification and identification of the oxygenated products by HPLC, uv, GC-MS, and steric analysis of hydroxyl configuration by HPLC. The major product was identified as a phosphatidylcholine in which the arachidonate component was converted to the 15(S)-hydroperoxy-eicosatetraenoate. A second oxygenated phospholipid was produced in smaller quantities (2-5% of the latter product) and identified as the 12(S)-oxygenated analog. These products were also identified after reaction of the reticulocyte lipoxygenase with human red cell membranes which were radiolabeled by preincubation with [3H]arachidonic acid. The finding of 12S oxygenation represents the first evidence that a lipoxygenase can control a reaction centered on the 10-carbon of an arachidonoyl phospholipid. This is an important precedent, because hydrogen abstraction from carbon-10 is a critical step in the lipoxygenase-catalyzed synthesis of 8- and 12-hydroperoxy-eicosatetraenoates (HPETEs) and for the conversion of 5- and 15-HPETEs to leukotrienes.