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Developing, peak and healing lesions were induced in the skin of rabbits by topical applications (on different days) of the chemical irritant sulfur mustard (SM). Immediately after the rabbits were euthanized, the intact lesions were excised and organ-cultured for 17 to 20 hours. The culture fluids from early, peak and healing SM lesions all showed high chemoctactic activity for both PMN and MN. This finding suggests that the PMN and MN, seen microscopically in tissue sections of the lesions, were entering continuously, even during the healing process. The chemotaxins identified were the eicosanoid LTB4, the chemokine IL-8, and proteases producing the complement fragment C5a. Other studies from our laboratory showed that the number of cells containing IL-1, IL-8, MCP-1, and GRO mRNAs was increased in SM lesions. Chemotactic activity was released by both live and dead (frozen and thawed) cell suspensions of PMN, MN, and fibroblasts, suggesting that these cells were major sources of the chemotaxins produced by the SM lesion explants. Explants of normal skin produced considerable chemotactic activity for MN, but not for PMN. Chemotactic activity for PMN, and the release of LTB4, IL-8 and proteases cleaving C5 to C5a, occurred only in explants infiltrated by leukocytes.