The present studies were conducted to determine whether prostaglandin F2 alpha (PGF2 alpha) stimulates the production of "second messengers" derived from inositol phospholipid hydrolysis and increases intracellular free Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i) in isolated bovine luteal cells. PGF2 alpha provoked rapid (10 sec) and sustained (up to 60 min) increases in the levels of inositol mono-, bis-, and trisphosphates (InsP, InsP2, and InsP3, respectively). InsP3 was formed more rapidly than InsP2 or InsP after PGF2 alpha treatment. In addition, PGF2 alpha increased inositol phospholipid turnover, as evidenced by increased 32PO4 incorporation into phosphatidic acid and phosphatidylinositol. LiCl (1-20 mM) enhanced inositol phosphate accumulation in response to PGF2 alpha. Maximal increases in InsP3 occurred at 1 microM PGF2 alpha, with half-maximal stimulation occurring at 36 nM. The acute effects of PGF2 alpha on InsP3 levels were independent of reductions in extracellular calcium. Prostaglandins E1 and E2 also stimulated increases in inositol phosphate levels, albeit to a lesser extent. PGF2 alpha also induced rapid and concentration-dependent increases in [Ca2+]i as measured by quin-2 fluorescence. The PGF2 alpha-induced increases in [Ca2+]i were maximal within 30 sec (approximately 2- to 3-fold), and [Ca2+]i remained elevated for 8-10 min. The PGF2 alpha-induced increases in [Ca2+]i were also independent of extracellular calcium. These findings demonstrate that the action of PGF2 alpha is coupled to the phospholipase C-InsP3 and diacylglycerol second messenger system in the corpus luteum.