The release of free arachidonic acid from membrane phospholipids is believed to be the rate-controlling step in the production of the prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and related metabolites in inflammatory cells such as the macrophage. We have previously identified several different phospholipases in the macrophage-like cell line P388D1 potentially capable of controlling arachidonic acid release. Among them, a membrane-bound, alkaline pH optimum, Ca2+-dependent phospholipase A2 is of particular interest because of the likelihood that the regulatory enzyme has these properties. This phospholipase A2 has now been solubilized from the membrane fraction with octyl glucoside and partially purified. The first two steps in this purification are butanol extractions that yield a lyophilized, stable preparation of phospholipase A2 lacking other phospholipase activities. This phospholipase A2 shows considerably more activity when assayed in the presence of glycerol, regardless of whether the substrate, dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine, is in the form of sonicated vesicles or mixed micelles with the nonionic surfactant Triton X-100. Glycerol (70%) increases both the Vmax and the Km with both substrate forms, giving a Vmax of about 15 nmol min-1 mg-1 and an apparent Km of about 60 microM for vesicles and a Vmax of about 100 nmol min-1 mg-1 and an apparent Km of about 1 mM for mixed micelles. Vmax/Km is slightly greater for vesicles than for mixed micelles. The lyophilized preparation of the enzyme is routinely purified about 60-fold and is suitable for evaluating phospholipase A2 inhibitors such as manoalide analogues. Subsequent steps in the purification are acetonitrile extraction followed by high performance liquid chromatography on an Aquapore BU-300 column and a Superose 12 column. This yields a 2500-fold purification of the membrane-bound phospholipase A2 with a 25% recovery and a specific activity of about 800 nmol min-1 mg-1 toward 100 microM dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine in mixed micelles. When this material was subjected to analysis on a Superose 12 sizing column, the molecular mass of the active fraction was approximately 18,000 daltons.