Male Sprague Dawley rats were fed a butter-enriched diet (50% fat) for 2 weeks and then supplemented orally with either 90 mg of ethyl arachidonate or ethyl linoleate daily for 2 weeks. For comparative reasons, one group of animals was fed standard laboratory rat chow for 4 weeks. Aortic prostacyclin (PGI2) production, platelet aggregation and thromboxane A2 (TXA2) production and plasma and aortic phospholipid (PL) fatty acids were measured. When compared to butter-fed rats, aortic PGI2 production, collagen-induced platelet aggregation and TXA2 production were significantly increased in rats supplemented with ethyl arachidonate to levels similar to those seen in chow-fed rats. Ethyl linoleate supplementation also tended to increase aortic PGI2 production, collagen-induced platelet aggregation and TXA2, but not to the same extent. These changes were accompanied by increases in the level of arachidonic acid and linoleic acid in aortic and plasma PL and a decrease in the level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docsahexaenoic acid (DHA). These data indicate that supplementation with small doses of preformed arachidonic acid was more effective than supplementation with its precursor, linoleic acid, in reversing the effects on prostanoid production and phospholipid fatty acid composition in rats fed diets enriched with butter.