Human chorionic gonadotropin, hCG, a hormone which increases intracellular cAMP, provoked rapid (30 s) and sustained (up to 30 min) increases in the levels of inositol mono-, bis- and trisphosphates (IP, IP2 and IP3, respectively) in bovine luteal cells. LiCl (10 mM) enhanced inositol phosphate accumulation in response to hCG. Concentration-dependent increases in inositol phosphates, cAMP and progesterone accumulation were observed in hCG-treated luteal cells. hCG also induced rapid and concentration-dependent increases in cytosolic free Ca2+ as measured by quin 2 fluorescence. These findings demonstrate that hCG stimulates the phospholipase C-IP3 and diacylglycerol 'second messenger' system in the bovine corpus luteum.