A family of genes encoding four distinct muscarinic receptors (designated m1-m4) has been cloned and stably expressed in A9 L cells. When the m1 and m3 receptors were stimulated with carbachol, there was a rapid rise of liberated arachidonic acid, inositol phosphates, and cAMP, while m2 and m4 receptor stimulation had no detectable stimulation of these second messengers. Pretreatment with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) caused a marked acceleration and amplification of m1 and m3 receptor-mediated arachidonic acid release. In contrast, m1- and m3-mediated inositol phosphate formation was inhibited by the same PMA pretreatment. Arachidonic acid release was unaffected by manipulations of cAMP levels. Arachidonic acid production was inhibited by calcium-free medium and 3,4,5-trimethoxybenzoic acid 8-(diethylamino)octyl ester (TMB-8; an inhibitor of cytosolic calcium mobilization) yet was unaffected by verapamil, a calcium-channel blocker. These experiments show that arachidonic acid release induced by the m1 and m3 receptors is regulated independently of phospholipase C and cAMP accumulation. Carbachol stimulation of the m1 and m3 cAMP accumulation. Carbachol stimulation of the m1 and m3 receptors also markedly decreased mitogenesis as measured by thymidine incorporation. The m1 receptor-mediated inhibition of mitogenesis could be partially blocked by indomethacin, a cyclooxygenase inhibitor. The inhibition of mitogenesis could be mimicked by cAMP elevation.