Phospholipase A2 (EC 126.96.36.199; PLA2) is detected in serum by determination of either the catalytic activity of the enzyme or the concentration of the enzyme protein by immunoassays. The most sensitive methods for determining PLA2 catalytic activity are radiometric assays, with a substrate of synthetic phospholipid (e.g., phosphatidylcholine or phosphatidylethanolamine) containing a 14C- or 3H-labeled fatty acid at the sn-2-position. Membranes of autoclaved Escherichia coli grown in the presence of radioactive oleic acid may also be used as a substrate. The released fatty acids are separated from the unreacted substrate and quantified by liquid scintillation counting. PLA2 catalytic activities are increased in serum in sepsis, acute pancreatitis, peritonitis, multiple injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, and other arthropathies. Immunoassays--radioimmunoassay, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or time-resolved fluoroimmunoassay--are based on the use of either polyclonal or monoclonal antibodies to purified PLA2s. Specific assays have been developed for both pancreatic group I PLA2 (PLA2-I) and nonpancreatic group II PLA2 (PLA2-II). The cellular source of PLA2-I in serum is the pancreatic acinar cell. Increased serum PLA2-I values have been reported in acute pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, and abdominal trauma. Increased PLA2-II values are found in conditions involving inflammation, e.g., sepsis, infections, acute pancreatitis, various forms of arthritis, cancer, complications of pregnancy, and postoperative states. Good correlations have been found in serum samples between the catalytic activity of PLA2 and the concentration of PLA2-II but not PLA2-I. PLA2-II may represent an acute-phase protein. The cellular source of the PLA2-II in serum is unknown; it is present in large amounts in cartilage and Paneth cells, prostatic gland cells, seminal fluid, lacrimal gland cells, and tears, but cannot be demonstrated by immunohistochemical or immunochemical methods in inflammatory cells.