Polyphosphoinositides play an important role in membrane trafficking and cell signalling. In plants, two PtdInsP isomers have been described, PtdIns3P and PtdIns4P. Here we report the identification of a third, PtdIns5P. Evidence is based on the conversion of the endogenous PtdInsP pool into PtdIns(4,5)P(2) by a specific PtdIns5P 4-OH kinase, and on in vivo (32)P-labelling studies coupled to HPLC head-group analysis. In Chlamydomonas, 3-8% of the PtdInsP pool was PtdIns5P, 10-15% was PtdIns3P and the rest was PtdIns4P. In seedlings of Vicia faba and suspension-cultured tomato cells, the level of PtdIns5P was about 18%, indicating that PtdIns5P is a general plant lipid that represents a significant proportion of the PtdInsP pool. Activating phospholipase C (PLC) signalling in Chlamydomonas cells with mastoparan increased the turnover of PtdIns(4,5)P(2) at the cost of PtdIns4P, but did not affect the level of PtdIns5P. This indicates that PtdIns(4,5)P(2) is synthesized from PtdIns4P rather than from PtdIns5P during PLC signalling. However, when cells were subjected to hyperosmotic stress, PtdIns5P levels rapidly increased, suggesting a role in osmotic-stress signalling. The potential pathways of PtdIns5P formation are discussed.