Dupuytren's disease is associated with contraction of specialized fibroblasts present in the diseased palmar fascia. Pharmacologic agents were evaluated for their ability to promote or inhibit contraction of Dupuytren's fibroblasts in vitro using a collagen lattice contraction assay. In the first part of the study, lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), serotonin, angiotensin II, and prostaglandin F2 alpha were tested for their ability to promote Dupuytren's fibroblast contraction. Lysophosphatidic acid was found to significantly promote Dupuytren's fibroblast contraction as compared with controls. This response to LPA is dose dependent, with a half-maximal response of 0.07 microM. Angiotensin II, serotonin, and prostaglandin F2 alpha at 1 mM, induced a significant amount of contraction as compared to controls, but the amount of contraction was at least six times less than that observed for LPA. In the second part of the study, prostaglandins E1 and E2 or the calcium blockers nifedipine and verapamil were tested for their ability to inhibit LPA-promoted contraction. It was found that both types of inhibitors partially block LPA-promoted contraction of Dupuytren's fibroblasts. The effect of the various pharmacologic agents on normal palmar fibroblasts was not evaluated. The focus of this study was to examine the regulation of contraction of Dupuytren's fibroblasts. This study demonstrates that LPA is a potent agonist of Dupuytren's fibroblast contraction and that this contraction can be inhibited by specific pharmacologic agents. These findings provide a rational basis for investigating further the clinical use of the calcium channel blockers nifedipine or verapamil and prostaglandins E1 and E2 to control Dupuytren's disease and possibly other fibrotic conditions.