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We and others have previously demonstrated that human alveolar macrophages produce more PGE2 in response to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) than do blood monocytes. We hypothesized that this observation was due to a greater increase in prostaglandin H synthase-2 (PGHS-2) enzyme mass in the macrophage compared to the monocyte. To evaluate this hypothesis, alveolar macrophages and blood monocytes were obtained from healthy nonsmoking volunteers. The cells were cultured in the presence of 0 to 10 micrograms/ml LPS. LPS induced the synthesis of large amounts of a new 75-kD protein in human alveolar macrophages, and a lesser amount in monocytes. Synthesis of this protein required more than 6 h and peaked in 24 to 48 h; the protein reacted with an anti-PGHS-2 antibody prepared against mouse PGHS-2. Associated with synthesis of the protein was a marked increase in LPS-stimulated and arachidonic acid-stimulated synthesis of PGE2 by alveolar macrophages compared to monocytes. Cells not exposed to LPS contained only PGHS-1 and synthesized very little PGE2 during culture or in response to exogenous arachidonic acid. An LPS-induced mRNA, which hybridized to a human cDNA probe for PGHS-2 mRNA, was produced in parallel with production of this new protein and was produced in much greater amounts by alveolar macrophages compared to blood monocytes. This mRNA was not detectable in cells not exposed to LPS. In contrast, both types of cells contain mRNA, which hybridizes to a cDNA probe for PGHS-1. This mRNA did not increase in response to LPS. LPS also had no effect on PGHS-1 protein. These data demonstrate that PGE2 synthesis in human alveolar macrophages and blood monocytes correlates to the mass of PGHS-2 in the cell. We conclude that the greater ability of the macrophage to synthesize PGE2 in response to LPS is due to greater synthesis of PGHS-2 by the macrophage.