A deficiency of prostacyclin (PGI2) production by the vascular endothelium might underline the severe vasoconstriction and intravascular thrombosis that characterise meningococcal shock. The effect on PGI2 synthesis by human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) in culture was examined in sera from children with meningococcal shock, healthy adults, and children with other febrile illnesses. In comparison with adult controls, PGI2 synthesis was reduced when HUVEC were incubated with the sera from 10 of 13 patients with meningococcal shock. A similar defect was observed with only four of 20 sera from children with other febrile illnesses. The effect of sera from patients with meningococcal shock on HUVEC was reversible with normal serum, and seems to be due to the absence of a factor necessary for PGI2 production rather than an inhibitor. These findings suggest that a deficiency of PGI2 may have a role in the pathogenesis of meningococcal shock and that exogenous PGI2 may be of therapeutic benefit.