The effects of haematoporphyrin-derivative-mediated photodynamic treatment on arachidonic acid metabolism and its relation to clonogenicity have been studied in human bladder-tumour cells. Photodynamic treatment resulted in a transient release of arachidonic acid-derived compounds; prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and thromboxane B2 (TXB2) especially were strongly increased. This release was reduced by chelation of intracellular Ca2+ with Quin-2 or by lowering the extracellular Ca2+ concentration in the medium with EGTA, presumably resulting in inhibition of phospholipase A2. A similar reduction was obtained when indomethacin, an inhibitor of the cyclo-oxygenase pathway, was added prior to light exposure. These three treatments enhanced the photosensitivity, as revealed by the clonogenicity assay. Incubation with PGE2 prior to light exposure, but not with TXB2, protected against reproductive-cell death. The results of these experiments suggest that Ca(2+)-mediated activation of cyclo-oxygenase, resulting in increased levels of PGE2, participates in a cellular-defence mechanism against photodynamic cell killing.