In isolated normal rat jejunum, platelet-activating factor (PAF) induced a dose-dependent increase in short-circuit current (Isc) that was reduced in chloride-free buffer and inhibited by the Cl- channel blocker, diphenylamine-2-carboxylate. An immediate rise in Isc (early phase) occurred that fell to a new elevated base line by 15 min (late phase). These responses to PAF occurred only when experiments were conducted at or before approximately 9 A.M. Early phase responses were blocked by the specific PAF antagonists, BN52021 and WEB2086, and were inhibited by the neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin. Early and late phases were also reduced by cyclooxygenase inhibitors and by doxantrazole, a mast cell stabilizing drug. However, histamine and serotonin antagonists were ineffective. We conclude that PAF causes changes in ion transport that include Cl- secretion and acts on the epithelium possibly via an intermediate cell and enteric nerves. In addition, known PAF receptors are involved in one component of the response that appears to follow a circadian rhythm.