Cell membranes contain sphingolipids and cholesterol, which cluster together in distinct domains called rafts. The outer-membrane leaflet of these peculiar membrane domains contains glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored proteins, while the inner leaflet contains proteins implicated in signalling, such as the acylated protein kinase p56(lck) and the palmitoylated adaptator LAT (linker for activation of T-cells). We present here an approach to study the lipid composition of rafts and its change upon T-cell activation. Our method is based on metabolic labelling of Jurkat T-cells with different precursors of glycerophospholipid synthesis, including glycerol and fatty acids with different lengths and degrees of saturation as well as phospholipid polar head groups. The results obtained indicate that lipid rafts isolated by the use of sucrose density-gradient centrifugation after Triton X-100 extraction in the cold, besides sphingolipids and cholesterol, contain unambiguously all classes of glycerophospholipids: phosphatidylserine, phosphatidylinositol, phosphatidylethanolamine and phosphatidylcholine. Fatty acid labelling shows that lipid rafts are labelled preferentially with saturated fatty acids while the rest of the plasma membrane incorporates mostly long-chained polyunsaturated fatty acids. To see whether the raft composition as measured by metabolic labelling of phospholipids is involved in T-cell activation, we investigated the production of sn-1,2-diacylglycerol (DAG) in CD3-activated cells. DAG production occurs within rafts, confirming previous demonstration of protein kinase C translocation into membrane microdomains. Our data demonstrate that raft disorganization by methyl-beta-cyclodextrin impairs both CD3-induced DAG production and changes in cytosolic Ca(2+) concentration. These lines of evidence support the conclusion that the major events in T-cell activation occur within or due to lipid rafts.