In earlier reports and reviews, it was suggested that unlike its methyl ester, the free acid form of the 12-lipoxygenase-derived eicosanoid hepoxilin A3 (HXA3) does not enter neutrophils and other cells. Therefore, in the past, most studies on the biological activities of HXA3 on human neutrophils were conducted with its methyl ester. Here, we present evidence that free HXA3 is biologically active towards human neutrophils at submicromolar concentrations, which may occur under certain circumstances in vivo. Thus, HXA3 caused chemotaxis at concentrations as low as 30-40 nM, an effect which was attenuated at higher concentrations of this eicosanoid. Its chemotactic potency proved to be comparable to that of leukotriene B4, but higher than that of the chemotactic peptide formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (fMLP), and greatly exceeded that of the other 12-lipoxygenase metabolite, 12(S)-hydroxy-5,8,10,14-eicosatetraenoic acid, which was inactive at comparable concentrations. The chemotactic activity of HXA3 was not abolished by serum albumin, but it was suppressed by pertussis toxin. Unlike fMLP, at this concentration range HXA3 did not cause respiratory burst or aggregation of the neutrophils or activation of protein kinase C. These observations suggest a remarkably selective and specific receptor-mediated process. At concentrations higher than 1 microM, HXA3 gives rise to an instantaneous release of calcium from intracellular stores which causes, however, only a slight, if any, liberation of arachidonic acid. On the other hand, pretreatment of the neutrophils with submicromolar concentrations of HXA3 significantly blunts the liberation of arachidonic acid caused by fMLP.