© 2019 by the authors. In the late 1960s, Barbaro and Zvaifler described a substance that caused antigen induced histamine release from rabbit platelets producing antibodies in passive cutaneous anaphylaxis. Henson described a `soluble factor¿ released from leukocytes that induced vasoactive amine release in platelets. Later observations by Siraganuan and Osler observed the existence of a diluted substance that had the capacity to cause platelet activation. In 1972, the term platelet-activating factor (PAF) was coined by Benveniste, Henson, and Cochrane. The structure of PAF was later elucidated by Demopoulos, Pinckard, and Hanahan in 1979. These studies introduced the research world to PAF, which is now recognised as a potent phospholipid mediator. Since its introduction to the literature, research on PAF has grown due to interest in its vital cell signalling functions and more sinisterly its role as a pro-inflammatory molecule in several chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancer. As it is forty years since the structural elucidation of PAF, the aim of this review is to provide a historical account of the discovery of PAF and to provide a general overview of current and future perspectives on PAF research in physiology and pathophysiology.