Platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) is a potent mitogen for vascular smooth muscle cells that has been implicated in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. The potential role of PDGF in the altered vasoreactivity of atherosclerotic vessels has been studied through an examination of its effects on contractility in the rat aorta. PDGF caused a concentration-dependent contraction of aortic strips and was significantly more potent on a molar basis than the classic vasoconstrictor peptide angiotensin II. Furthermore, PDGF increased the cytosolic free calcium concentration in cultured rat aortic smooth muscle cells. These observations suggest a new biological activity for PDGF that may contribute to the enhanced vasoreactivity of certain atherosclerotic vessels.