Phospholipase C (PLC) and protein kinase C (PKC) are important components of the phosphoinositide (PI) signaling system. To examine if the abnormalities observed in the PI signaling system of patients with affective disorders, reported in previous studies, are related to abnormalities in one or more of its components, we studied PKC, PI-PLC activity, the expression of their specific isozymes, and expression of myristoylated alanine-rich C-kinase substrate (MARCKS) in platelets obtained from 15 drug-free hospitalized patients with bipolar disorder and 15 with major depressive disorder (unipolar) and from 15 nonhospitalized normal control subjects. We observed a significant decrease in PI-PLC and PKC activity and the expression of selective PKC alpha, betaI, betaII, and PLC delta(1) isozymes in membrane and cytosol fraction of platelets from bipolar but not unipolar patients. On the other hand, the level of MARCKS was significantly increased in membrane and cytosol fraction of platelets from patients with bipolar but not unipolar disorders. These results suggest that alterations in PKC, PLC, and MARCKS may be involved in the pathophysiology of bipolar illness.