5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) is a mitogen for fibroblasts, vascular smooth muscle cells, renal mesangial cells, and jejunal crypt cells. The human carcinoid cell line (termed BON) that we established in our laboratory from a pancreatic carcinoid tumor produces and secretes 5-HT. In this study, therefore, we examined the effect of 5-HT on growth of BON cells. Furthermore, by use of selective 5-HT receptor antagonists, we examined receptor and post-receptor mechanisms by which 5-HT-induced responses were produced. 5-HT stimulated growth of BON cells. 5-HT stimulated phosphatidylinositol (PI) hydrolysis in a dose-dependent fashion and inhibited cyclic AMP production in a dose-dependent fashion. The 5-HT1A/1B receptor antagonist, SDZ 21-009, prevented the reduction of cyclic AMP production evoked by 5-HT and inhibited the mitogenic action of 5-HT. The 5-HT1C/2 receptor antagonist, mesulergine, competitively inhibited PI hydrolysis, but did not affect the mitogenic action of 5-HT. The mitogenic action of 5-HT and the reduction of cyclic AMP production evoked by 5-HT were also inhibited by pertussis toxin. These results suggest that 5-HT is an autocrine growth factor for BON cells and that mitogenic mechanism of 5-HT involves receptor-mediated inhibition of the production of cyclic AMP which may be linked to pertussis toxin-sensitive GTP binding protein. 8-bromo-cyclic AMP inhibited growth of BON cells whereas 8-bromo-cyclic GMP had no effect on cell growth. Involvement of protein kinase A in BON cell growth regulation was confirmed by the observation that a cAMP-dependent protein kinase antagonist (Rp-cAMPS) could stimulate BON cell growth.