In many cells, protein kinase C (PKC) activation inhibits cellular phospholipase C thereby preventing receptor-mediated phosphatidylinositol (PI) metabolism. In T lymphocytes, the T cell antigen receptor (Ti)/CD3 complex regulates PI hydrolysis and we have examined the consequences of PKC activation on Ti/CD3-mediated PI metabolism in human peripheral blood-derived T lymphocytes (T lymphoblasts) and the leukemic T cell line Jurkat. In Jurkat cells, PI metabolism after Ti/CD3 stimulation, is inhibited by PKC activation. PKC activation also inhibits calcium-induced PI metabolism in permeabilized Jurkat cells. In marked contrast, PI metabolism after Ti/CD3 stimulation in T lymphoblasts, is not inhibited by PKC activation. Moreover, in permeabilized T lymphoblasts PI metabolism can be induced by calcium in synergy with guanine 5'-O-(3-thiotrisphosphate) via a PKC-insensitive mechanism. The different effect of PKC stimulation on PI metabolism in Jurkat cells and T lymphoblasts reveals heterogeneity of PLC regulation in T lymphocytes. The data also indicate that the role of PKC as a regulator of Ti/CD3 signal transduction can differ depending on cell type.