Okadaic acid (OA), a protein phosphatase inhibitor, was found to induce hyperphosphorylation and reorganization of vimentin intermediate filaments in 9L rat brain tumor cells. The process was dose dependent. Vimentin phosphorylation was initially enhanced by 400 nM OA in 30 min and reached maximal level (about 26-fold) when cells were treated with 400 nM OA for 90 min. Upon removal of OA, dephosphorylation of the hyperphosphorylated vimentin was observed and the levels of phosphorylation returned to that of the controls after the cells recovered under normal growing conditions for 11 h. The phosphorylation and dephosphorylation of vimentin induced by OA concomitantly resulted in reversible reorganization of vimentin filaments and alteration of cell morphology. Cells rounded up as they were entering mitosis in the presence of OA and returned to normal appearance after 11 h of recovery. Immuno-staining with anti-vimentin antibody revealed that vimentin filaments were disassembled and clustered around the nucleus when the cells were treated with OA but subsequently returned to the filamentous states when OA was removed. Two-dimensional electrophoresis analysis further revealed that hyperphosphorylation of vimentin generated at least seven isoforms having different isoelectric points. Furthermore, the enhanced vimentin phosphorylation was accompanied by changes in the detergent-solubility of the protein. In untreated cells, the detergent-soluble and -insoluble vimentins were of equal amounts but the solubility could be increased when vimentins were hyperphosphorylated in the presence of OA. Taken together, the results indicated that OA could be involved in reversible hyperphosphorylation and reorganization of vimentin intermediate filaments, which may play an important role in the structure-function regulation of cytoskeleton in the cell.