Platelet-activating factor (PAF) is a phospholipid mediator that belongs to a family of biologically active, structurally related alkyl phosphoglycerides. PAF acts via a specific receptor that is coupled with a G protein, which activates a phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C. In this review we focus on the aspects that are more relevant for the cell biology of the cardiovascular system. The in vitro studies provided evidence for a role of PAF both as intercellular and intracellular messenger involved in cell-to-cell communication. In the cardiovascular system, PAF may have a role in embryogenesis because it stimulates endothelial cell migration and angiogenesis and may affect cardiac function because it exhibits mechanical and electrophysiological actions on cardiomyocytes. Moreover, PAF may contribute to modulation of blood pressure mainly by affecting the renal vascular circulation. In pathological conditions, PAF has been involved in the hypotension and cardiac dysfunctions occurring in various cardiovascular stress situations such as cardiac anaphylaxis and hemorrhagic, traumatic, and septic shock syndromes. In addition, experimental studies indicate that PAF has a critical role in the development of myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury. Indeed, PAF cooperates in the recruitment of leukocytes in inflamed tissue by promoting adhesion to the endothelium and extravascular transmigration of leukocytes. The finding that human heart can produce PAF, expresses PAF receptor, and is sensitive to the negative inotropic action of PAF suggests that this mediator may have a role also in human cardiovascular pathophysiology.