Endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF) inhibits platelet function, but the mechanism underlying this inhibitory effect is not known. To examine this, cultured acetylsalicylic acid (ASA)-treated endothelial cells (EC) from bovine aorta (BAEC) or from human umbilical vein (HUVEC) were incubated with washed, ASA-treated human platelets. Incubation of platelets with either BAEC or HUVEC resulted in inhibition of thrombin-induced platelet aggregation that was dependent on the number of EC added. This effect was potentiated by superoxide dismutase and reversed by treating EC with NG-nitro-L-arginine or by treating platelets with methylene blue, indicating that the inhibition of platelet aggregation was due to the release of EDRF by EC. EC significantly blocked the thrombin stimulated breakdown of phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) and the production of phosphatidic acid in [32P]orthophosphate-labeled platelets and of inositol trisphosphate in [3H]myoinositol-labeled platelets. In addition, the thrombin-mediated activation of protein kinase C (PKC) and phosphorylation of myosin light chain were inhibited in the presence of EC. Finally, thrombin stimulated an increase in cytosolic ionized calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i) in fura2-loaded platelets that was abolished by concentrations of EC which also blocked thrombin- induced aggregation. These data indicate that EDRF blocks thrombin- induced platelet aggregation by inhibiting the activation of PIP2- specific phospholipase C and thereby suppressing the consequent activation of PKC and the mobilization of [Ca2+]i.