After trauma and hemorrhagic shock (T/HS), mesenteric lymph (ML) activates polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs), injures endothelial cells (ECs), and predisposes to lung injury. The involved mediators, however, are unknown. We studied the ability of aqueous (AQ) and lipid (LIP) extracts of rat T/HS ML to activate PMNs and injure ECs. ML was collected from male rats undergoing trauma (laparotomy) plus hemorrhagic shock (30 mm Hg, 90 minutes) or sham shock. AQ and LIP ML fractions were separated using the Bligh-Dyer technique. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells were incubated 18 hours in 5% LIP or AQ lymph fractions and viability was assessed using the MTT assay. Rat PMNs incubated 5 minutes with 3% LIP or AQ fractions were assessed for respiratory burst (RB) and cytosolic calcium ([Ca(2+)](i)) using dihydrorhodamine 123 and fura-2AM. Human PMN responses to AQ and LIP T/HS lymph were studied similarly. EC incubated in AQ showed 19 +/- 4% viability as compared with 65 +/- 11% in LIP (p < 0.001). Whole lymph affected ECs comparably to AQ T/HS lymph. Rat PMN basal [Ca(2+)](i) increased after exposure to AQ but not LIP T/HS lymph extracts. AQ T/HS lymph primed [Ca(2+)](i) responses to macrophage inflammatory protein-2 and platelet-activating factor; neither LIP T/HS nor any trauma and sham shock lymph fraction caused PMN priming. Rat PMN RB was elevated after AQ T/HS lymph incubation when compared with buffer (610 +/- 122 U/s vs. 225 +/- 38 U/s, p = 0.01). Rat PMN incubation in LIP T/HS lymph caused minimal activation (289 +/- 28 U/s, p = NS). Conversely, human PMN showed [Ca(2+)](i) and RB priming by rat T/HS LIP and not AQ extracts. T/HS mesenteric lymph contains multiple biologically active mediators. Both AQ and LIP extracts of T/HS lymph are toxic to human umbilical vein endothelial cells, with AQ more active than LIP. Only AQ T/HS lymph activates rat PMNs, although LIP rat lymph extract activates human PMNs. These findings demonstrate the complex nature of gut lymph-derived biologic factors as well as species-specific differences on PMN and EC physiology. Therapies directed at any one specific molecule or mediator are therefore unlikely to be successful.