Changes in phosphoinositide metabolism were examined in washed rabbit platelets stimulated with 0.5 microM-ADP, 50 microM-adrenaline, or ADP and adrenaline in combination. Adrenaline does not stimulate platelet aggregation when used alone, but does potentiate aggregation stimulated by ADP. In platelets prelabelled with [32P]Pi and [3H]glycerol, adrenaline was found to potentiate the ADP-induced changes in platelet phospholipids, causing larger increases in the amount and labelling of phosphatidylinositol 4-phosphate (PIP) and phosphatidic acid than was observed with ADP alone. The combination of ADP and adrenaline did not produce a greater decrease in phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) than was produced by ADP alone. In platelets prelabelled with [3H]inositol, adrenaline potentiated the increases in labelling of inositol phosphate and inositol bisphosphate stimulated by ADP; no increase in inositol trisphosphate labelling was detected with ADP alone or with the combination of ADP and adrenaline. Phentolamine, an alpha-adrenergic-receptor antagonist, blocked potentiation by adrenaline of ADP-induced changes in phosphoinositide metabolism. Propranolol and sotalol, beta-adrenergic-receptor antagonists, augmented the potentiation; this is consistent with the concept that the effect of adrenaline is mediated by beta-adrenergic receptors. The effect of adrenaline on phosphoinositide metabolism appears to be to potentiate the mechanisms by which ADP causes turnover of PIP and possibly degradation of PI, rather than the mechanism by which PIP2 is decreased.