The endogenous phospholipid mediator lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) caused growth cone collapse, neurite retraction, and cell flattening in differentiated PC12 cells. Neurite retraction was blocked by cytochalasin B and ADP-ribosylation of the small-molecular-weight G protein Rho by the Clostridium botulinum C-3 toxin. LPA induced a transient rise in the level of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate, and retraction was blocked by inhibitors of phospholipase beta. Repeated application of LPA elicited homologous desensitization of the Ca2+ mobilization response. The activation of the phosphoinositide (PIP)-Ca2+ second messenger system played a permissive role in the morphoregulatory response. Blockers of protein kinase C--chelerythrine, a myristoylated pseudosubstrate peptide, staurosporine, and depletion of protein kinase C from the cells by long-term phorbol ester treatment--all diminished neurite retraction by interfering with LPA-induced Ca2+ mobilization, which was required for the withdrawal of neurites. A brief 15-min treatment with 4 beta-phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate also blocked retraction and Ca2+ mobilization, by inactivating the LPA receptor. Inhibition of protein tyrosine phosphorylation by herbimycin diminished retraction. Although activation of the PIP-Ca2+ second messenger system appears necessary for the Rho-mediated rearrangements of the actin cytoskeleton, bradykinin, which activates similar signaling events, failed to cause retraction, indicating that a yet unidentified novel mechanism is also involved in the LPA-induced morphoregulatory response.