Rapid in vitro effects of aldosterone (ALDO) on intracellular sodium, potassium and calcium, cell volume and the sodium-proton-antiport have been described in human mononuclear leukocytes and rat vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC). These nongenomic effects are signaled through membrane receptors with a high affinity for aldosterone, but not for hydrocortisone. Effects of ALDO on the production of diacylglycerol (DAG) and protein kinase C alpha (PKC) were measured in VSCM by enzymatic assay and immunoblotting. DAG production was stimulated twofold by ALDO (> or = 1 nM) within 30 sec while hydrocortisone was inactive at concentrations of up to 1 microM. The inhibitors of phospholipase C, neomycin and U-73122 completely blocked this effect. PKC translocation from cytosol to membranes by ALDO occurred within 5 min, the extent of this effect was comparable to that of angiotensin II. These data demonstrate rapid intracellular signaling for ALDO in VSMC through phospholipase C, DAG and PKC in addition to calcium and inositol-1,4,5-trisphosphate as determined earlier.