We analyzed de novo synthesis and local turnover of phospholipids in the growing neuron and the isolated nerve growth cone. The metabolism of phosphatidylinositol (PI) was studied with regard to the incorporation of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and inositol. A comparison of de novo phospholipid synthesis in the intact neuron (whole brain, cell cultures) versus local turnover in isolated growth cone particles (GCPs) from fetal rat brain revealed different incorporation patterns and, in particular, high arachidonic acid (AA) turnover in PI of GCPs. These observations, together with elevated levels of free AA (2.5% of total AA content) in GCPs, demonstrate the predominance of acylation/deacylation in the sn-2 position of PI. GCP phospholipase A2 (PLA2) activity was demonstrated using [3H]-or [14C]AA-phosphatidylcholine (PC) or -PI as the substrate in vitro and GCPs or a cytosolic GCP extract as the source of enzyme. In contrast to PC, which is hydrolyzed very slowly, PI is a very good GCP PLA2 substrate. PLA2 activity is much higher in GCPs than that of phospholipase C, as demonstrated by the comparison of AA and inositol turnover, by the low levels of 1,2-diacylglycerol generated by GCPs, and by the resistance of AA release to treatment of GCPs with RHC-80267, a specific inhibitor of diacylglycerol lipase. The predominance of PLA2 activity in GCPs raises questions regarding its regulation and the functional roles of PI metabolites, especially lysocompounds, in growth cones.