The Rho GTPases Rac and Cdc42 play a central role in the regulation of secretory and cytoskeletal responses in antigen-stimulated mast cells. In this study, we examine the kinetics and mechanism of Rac and Cdc42 activation in the rat basophilic leukemia RBL-2H3 cells. The activation kinetics of both Rac and Cdc42 show a biphasic profile, consisting of an early transient peak at 1 min and a late sustained activation phase at 20-40 min. The inhibition of phospholipase C (PLC)gamma causes a twofold increase in Rac and Cdc42 activation that coincides with a dramatic production of atypical filopodia-like structures. Inhibition of protein kinase C using bisindolylmaleimide mimics the effect of PLCgamma inhibition on Rac activation, but not on Cdc42 activation. In contrast, depletion of intracellular calcium leads to a complete inhibition of the early activation peak of both Rac and Cdc42, without significant effects on the late sustained activation. These data suggest that PLCgamma is involved in a negative feedback loop that leads to the inhibition of Rac and Cdc42. They also suggest that the presence of intracellular calcium is a prerequisite for both Rac and Cdc42 activation.