We studied the effects of a single, oral dose of methotrexate (MTX) on arachidonic acid metabolism in neutrophils from 6 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which were obtained 1 day before and 1 day after their usual weekly MTX dose. The 6 patients had received a mean weekly MTX dose of 9.6 mg (range 5-15) for a mean of 61.7 months (range 58-64), and none received concomitant corticosteroids. Total generation of leukotriene B4 (LTB4) in neutrophils stimulated ex vivo with 10 microM calcium ionophore A23187 for 20 minutes was significantly suppressed, by a mean of 53%, after the MTX dose compared with the predose levels (mean +/- SEM 13.0 +/- 1.4 ng/10(6) cells versus 6.0 +/- 0.9 ng/10(6) cells; P = 0.0019), reflecting a comparable suppression of both released and cell-retained LTB4. A 49% decrease in omega-oxidation products of LTB4 demonstrates that decreased LTB4 synthesis, rather than increased degradation, is responsible for the decrease in LTB4 generation. The absence of a significant change in either 3H-labeled arachidonic acid release or platelet-activating factor generation indicates that the observed decrease in LTB4 synthesis was apparently not caused by diminished phospholipase A2 activity. A 28% decrease in the total formation of the 5-lipoxygenase products 5-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid and the 6-trans-LTB4 diastereoisomers, and a 48% suppression of production of LTB4 plus its omega-oxidation metabolites after the MTX dose suggest inhibition of 5-lipoxygenase activity and possible suppression of leukotriene A4 epoxide hydrolase activity.