The phospholipid and fatty acid composition of primary cultures (24 h) of chick embryo skeletal muscle myoblasts treated for 4-24 h with physiological concentrations of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D-3 and 25-hydroxyvitamin D-3 were analyzed. 25-Hydroxyvitamin D-3 did not alter the relative amounts of individual muscle cell phospholipids whereas 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D-3 significantly increased phosphatidylcholine content, mainly at the expense of a decrease in phosphatidylethanolamine concentration. The increase in phosphatidylcholine occurred at a faster rate during the first 8 h than in the subsequent 8-24 h treatment period. A similar time course in 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3-dependent changes in myoblast calcium uptake has been observe. In addition, this metabolite markedly increased (100%) the arachidonate content of myoblast phosphatidylcholine near the fusion stage of the cells (24 h of treatment). The levels of docosahexaenoate, a minor polyunsaturated fatty acid, in phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine were also substantially elevated by 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D-3. No significant changes in fatty acid composition in response to 25-hydroxyvitamin D-3 were observed. Modifications in phospholipids and polyunsaturated fatty acids may play a role in the effects of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D-3 on muscle cell calcium transport and differentiation.