The adenosine analog, N-ethylcarboxamidoadenosine (NECA), causes transient activation of phospholipase C and an enhancement of antigen-induced secretion in a rat mast cell (RBL-2H3) line via adenosine A3-receptors (Ramkumar et al., J. Biol. Chem. 268:16887, 1993) by a mechanism that is inhibited by bacterial toxins and potentiated by dexamethasone (Ali et al., J. Biol. Chem. 265:745-753, 1990). Here we show that NECA synergizes the secretory response to Ca(2+)-ionophore as well as to antigen. The ability of NECA to synergize the secretory responses persisted for 10 to 20 min, long after the early phospholipase C-mediated reactions to NECA had subsided. NECA caused, however, a dose-dependent sustained activation of phospholipase D, as indicated by the formation of [3H]phosphatidic acid, or in the presence of 0.3% ethanol, [3H]phosphatidylethanol. This activation was associated with a sustained increase in diglycerides, in protein kinase C activity and in the phosphorylation of myosin light chains by protein kinase C. The generation of diglycerides was enhanced in dexamethasone-treated cells and suppressed in cells that had been treated with cholera toxin or pertussis toxin. Collectively, the studies suggested that the generation of diglycerides via phospholipase D and the associated activation of protein kinase C were, by themselves, insufficient signals for secretion in RBL-2H3 cells, but that these reactions synergized responses to stimulants such as antigen or A23187 that caused substantial increases in [Ca2+]i.