Platelet activating factor (PAF) is a phospholipid mediator released upon stimulation of cells, such as mast cells, basophils, neutrophils, and macrophages, by opsonized agents. This mediator produces a variety of biological effects and acts via specific binding sites present on various cell types. This article briefly reviews the nature of PAF, as well as what is understood about its role in the inflammatory response associated with trauma, shock, and sepsis. Much of what is known of PAF biology and experimental pathophysiology has come from the discovery and subsequent use of selective PAF antagonists. In this respect, several of the PAF antagonists have been examined experimentally and some have been tested clinically in patients with sepsis and septic shock. Experimental and clinical studies suggest that PAF antagonists appear to be effective in cases of severe Gram- negative septic shock. Nonetheless, this mediator may not be a major component involved in the systemic inflammatory response syndrome.