Cell membrane phospholipids, including platelet-activating factor (PAF), participate in the pathogenesis of acute myocardial infarction (AMI). The plasma level of PAF acetylhydrolase (AH) was determined in 18 patients at presentation with AMI before thrombolysis, and the administration of adjunctive therapy, and compared with 13 healthy controls. Plasma levels of PAF-AH were significantly lower in the AMI patients (23.15 +/- 1.75 nmol/min/ml) than in the controls (30.43 +/- 2.13 nmol/min/ml; p = 0.027). Considering normal plasma levels of PAF and lyso-PAF, and lack of evidence that anti-PAF antibodies are really beneficial in myocardial ischemia-reperfusion, it is reasonable to speculate that an inability of systemic PAF to 'turn on' PAF-AH enzymatic activity could contribute substantially to the observed events. Decreased PAF-AH activity in AMI patients may represent not a consequence, but rather, a risk factor for the development of acute coronary syndromes.