One of the earliest effects of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) on human fibroblasts in culture is an induction of membrane ruffling. The morphology of the ruffles induced by PDGF is unique in that they form circular arrangements on the dorsal side of the cells. Here we report that the induction of circular ruffle arrangements is an effect specific for PDGF, dose-dependent and inhibitable by anti-PDGF antibodies. We have attempted to utilize this effect to design a rapid and sensitive bioassay for PDGF. The "membrane ruffling assay" is compared with other methods to measure PDGF and its specificity with regard to the different dimeric forms of PDGF is discussed. Introduction of Ca2+ into the cells via the Ca2+ ionophore A23187 or the addition of the tumor-promor 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA), which is a stimulator of protein kinase C, does not induce circular ruffle formations on human fibroblasts, neither does the addition of the combination of these two agents. However, addition of TPA almost completely inhibits PDGF-induced circular ruffle formations. Further, we find a shift in the time-course of the PDGF-induced circular ruffle formations by sodium orthovanadate, an inhibitor of protein tyrosine phosphatases. This may indicate the involvement of protein phosphorylation in the regulation of PDGF-induced membrane ruffling.