Enhanced proliferation of airway smooth muscle is thought to contribute to the pathogenesis of asthma and other obstructive airway diseases. Lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) is a simple bioactive lipid mediator that stimulates mitogenesis in fibroblasts and some other cell types. The effects of LPA on mitogenesis of cultured human airway smooth muscle cells were determined by measuring [3H]thymidine incorporation into cellular DNA. LPA induced a concentration-dependent stimulation of [3H]thymidine incorporation of a similar magnitude to that induced by serum, with the effects of 50 microM LPA being similar to those of 5% serum. Stimulation by LPA and by serum was almost completely eliminated in cells exposed to pertussis toxin, indicating involvement of a pertussis toxin-sensitive G protein in mitogenic signaling by these agents. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) induced stimulation of a similar magnitude as that with LPA, but the stimulation by EGF was insensitive to pertussis toxin. LPA and EGF, when added together, exhibited a markedly synergistic stimulation of [3H]thymidine incorporation that was typically 10-fold greater than the stimulation with either agent alone. LPA and EGF also stimulated mitogenesis assessed by cell growth, and again LPA and EGF together exhibited synergism. These results suggest the possibility that stimulation of airway smooth muscle cell proliferation by LPA, either alone or by enhancing effects of other growth factors, could play a role in normal airway remodeling or in the pathological proliferation of smooth muscle in various airway diseases.