Studies are reported on the capacity of isolated rat renal papilla (inner medulla) to synthesize and release prostaglandin (PG) E from endogenous and exogenous precursor(s) during development of an essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency in the rat. Weanling (21-day-old) male Sprague-Dawley rats were fed a fat-free diet supplemented with either 5% hydrogenated coconut oil (HCO) or 5% safflower oil (SO). At approximately 3, 6 and 7 weeks (6, 9 and 10 weeks of age), groups of animals fed each diet were killed for studies of PGE synthesis in the renal papillae. Differences in the fatty acid composition of the papillae lipids of the animals of each group were also determined. The in vitro production of PGE from endogenous precursor(s) was significantly reduced in the papillae from the 6-week-old rats fed the HCO diet compared to the control (SO) rats, and appeared to be near maximally depressed in the 10-week-old animals compared to that of animals fed an EFA deficient diet for over a year in an accessory experiment. Analyses of the fatty acids of the papillae lipids of the HCO groups showed that the levels of 18:2 and 20:4 were markedly reduced, and those of 16:1, 18:1 and 20:3 were elevated compared to the controls even in the 6-week-old animals, typical of an EFA deficiency. The papillae lipids of the animals fed the HCO diet were also depleted of their stores of 22:4ω6. A fatty acid believed to be derived by chain elongation of 20:3ω9, 22:3, was found in large concentrations in the papillae triglycerides of the EFA deficient rats. Incubations of exogenous arachidonic acid (20:4) in homogenates and tissue slices of the papillae of the HCO dietary groups showed that the PG synthetase was not impaired by an EFA deficiency. The rate of PGE synthesis in the papillae of the EFA deficient animals was generally enhanced when exogenous 20:4 was added, indicating that the concentration of available precursor(s) is a primary factor in the control of PGE synthesis in the papilla of the rat.