In response to glomerular injury, mesangial cells are activated into myofibroblasts, which contribute to the physiopathology of glomerulosclerosis. We have previously shown that chronic treatment of cultured human mesangial cells with mycophenolic acid (MPA), a specific inhibitor of guanosine nucleotide synthesis, prevents their activation and alters cytoskeleton protein expression and associated functions, such as contractility and migratory capacity. The aim of the present study was to explore the mechanisms underlying MPA-induced mesangial cytoskeleton alterations. We therein show that coincubation with guanosine (100 microM) compensates for the effects of MPA on mesangial cell proliferation and migration, and prevents MPA-induced overexpression of alpha-smooth muscle actin (SMA) and basic calponin (b-calp), indicating that guanylates are involved in mesangial responses to MPA. MPA decreased the GTP-bound (active) form of both RhoA, Rac1 and Cdc42, and specifically altered the expression level of Rac1. Pharmacological inhibition of RhoA activity reduced expression of both SMA and calponin, whereas overexpression of a dominant-negative form of Rac1 increased SMA expression. Conversely, overexpression of constitutively active Rac1 resulted in SMA and b-calp down-regulation, and fully prevented their stimulation by MPA, indicating that Rac inactivation is responsible for MPA effects on mesangial cytoskeletal expression. These results show that in human mesangial cells, RhoA and Rac1 exert opposite effects on the expression of two major cytoskeletal proteins: SMA and basic calponin. Moreover, these data highlight for the first time an integrated mechanism whereby MPA regulates mesangial phenotype, which is mediated by loss of Rac activity.