1. Phorbol esters are known to inhibit phospholipase C-mediated hydrolysis of membrane phosphoinositide. This inhibition is attributed to participation of protein kinase C (PKC) in a negative-feedback control of phosphoinositide metabolism. We have tested this hypothesis by using different types of activators and inhibitors of PKC. 2. Phorbol-12,13-dibutyrate (PDB) inhibited the stimulatory effect of acetylcholine (ACh) on [3H]inositol monophosphate ([3H]IP) formation in cultured sympathetic neurons of the chick embryo and adrenal medulla of the rat. 3. Acetylcholine (ACh) and 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) activated neuronal PKC by 3- to 8-fold. The extent of PKC activation by 100 microM-ACh was comparable to that of 100 nM-PDB. Activation of PKC by pre-incubation of sympathetic neurons with ACh (or 5-HT) did not inhibit the stimulatory effects of ACh (or 5-HT) on [3H]IP formation. 4. Pre-treatment of sympathetic neurons or adrenal medulla with a PKC inhibitor H7 (1-(5-isoquinolinyl-sulphonyl)-2-methyl-piperazine) almost completely blocked activation of the enzyme induced by PDB, ACh or 5-HT. However, blockade of PKC did not prevent the inhibitory effects of PDB on ACh-induced [3H]IP formation. 5. Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and muscarine induced catecholamine secretion from the perfused adrenal medulla via formation of inositol-1,4,5-tirisphosphate (IP3). Phorbol-12,13-dibutyrate decreased muscarine-induced catecholamine secretion. However, activation of PKC by VIP had no effect on muscarine-induced catecholamine secretion and vice versa. 6. These results suggest that PKC is not negatively coupled to phosphoinositide hydrolysis in sympathetic neurons and chromaffin cells. Phorbol esters must have targets other than PKC to interfere with the phosphoinositide hydrolysis.