Proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells (SMC) in response to platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and other mitogens plays an important role in restenosis following coronary angioplasty. Elevation of adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) concentration in SMC has been shown to inhibit SMC mitogenesis and could be obtained either directly by stimulation of adenylyl cyclase-coupled receptors or indirectly by inhibition of cAMP-specific phosphodiesterase (PDE4) or the cyclic guanosine 3', 5'-monophosphate-inhibitable phosphodiesterase (PDE3). This study compared the effects of the selective PDE3 inhibitors trequinsin and quazinone with the selective PDE4 inhibitors Ro 20-1724 and rolipram on PDGF-induced DNA synthesis, mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase activation, cAMP levels, and protein kinase A (PKA) activation in SMC. Both PDE3 and PDE4 inhibitors stimulated intracellular PKA activation as seen from phosphorylation of vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein (VASP). However, only PDE3 inhibitors, and not inhibitors of PDE4, reduced PDGF-induced DNA synthesis and inhibited p42/p44 MAP kinase phosphorylation. At antimitogenic concentrations, the PDE3 inhibitors had only minor effects on cAMP levels. In contrast, PDE4 inhibitors increased the forskolin-induced cellular cAMP concentration 13- to 17-fold above control. These data demonstrate that inhibitors of PDE3 are potent antimitogenic agents and that a general increase in cellular cAMP levels and PKA activation per se are not sufficient to inhibit PDGF-induced SMC mitogenesis.