We studied the effects of C-type natriuretic peptide (CNP) on rat cultured mesangial cell proliferation. (1) Exposure to CNP (10 nM-1 microM for 72 h) inhibited [3H]thymidine incorporation into mesangial cells in a concentration-dependent manner. Atrial natriuretic peptide (1 nM-1 microM), a peptide related to CNP, also decreased [3H]thymidine incorporation into these cells in a concentration-dependent manner. (2) Both CNP (10 nM- microM) and atrial natriuretic peptide (10 nM-1 microM) also decreased mesangial cell number. (3) The cyclic GMP analog, 8-bromo-cyclic GMP (100 microM and 1 microM), mimicked the inhibitory effects of CNP and atrial natriuretic peptide on [3H]thymidine incorporation into mesangial cells, whereas inhibitors of protein kinase C, protein kinase A, and protein kinase G reduced the effect of both natriuretic peptides. Moreover, the phosphatase inhibitor, calyculin A, increased [3H]thymidine incorporation into mesangial cells. (4) CNP and atrial natriuretic peptide decreased interleukin-1-, interleukin-6-, platelet derived growth factor-, angiotensin II-induced [3H]thymidine incorporation into mesangial cells. These results suggest that CNP exerts inhibitory effects on mesangial cell proliferation and that this effects depend on protein phosphorylation pathways.