Acyloxyacyl hydrolase (AOAH) is an enzyme of bovine polymorphonuclear neutrophil leukocytes (PMN) that is capable of detoxifying endotoxin (25). The activity of AOAH in PMN isolated from the blood was investigated in dairy cows that expelled the fetal membranes normally (Group NFM) and in cows with retained fetal membranes (Group RFM) to obtain better insight into the role of the AOAH enzyme of neutrophils in endotoxin-related diseases, which occur frequently in dairy cows during the early postpartum period, especially in RFM cows. Twenty early postpartum dairy cows were used in the study: 13 NFM cows and 7 RFM cows. In the RFM cows, the percentage of PMN in blood (29+/-4%) was significantly (P<0.05) lower than in NFM cows (43+/-4%). The average AOAH activity in RFM cows (mean +/- SEM = 89+/-13 pmol fatty acid/10(7) PMN/h) was lower than in NFM cows (107+/-6 pmol fatty acid/10(7) PMN/h), but the difference in neutrophil AOAH activity between the 2 groups was not significant. There was also a higher percentage of immature neutrophils in isolated leukocyte suspensions from RFM cows (22+/-8%) than from NFM cows (15+/-4%), so that impairment of AOAH activity in early postpartum cows could be explained, in part, by immaturity of the neutrophils. These results suggest that the decreased AOAH activity of PMN could play a role in the pathogenesis of endotoxin-related diseases in dairy cows during the early postpartum period.