The activation of cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase (cAMP-PK) in vivo was studied in LLC-PK1 pig kidney cells and the mutant cell lines M18 and FIB5, which have total levels of cAMP-PK catalytic-subunit and regulatory-subunit activities comparable with those of parental cells. The extent of cAMP-PK activation (release of active catalytic subunit from the holoenzyme) was directly correlated with the cellular cyclic AMP concentration in LLC-PK1 cells. In LLC-PK1 cells, as well as in the mutants M18 and FIB5, the extent of the induction of urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) by the cyclic AMP-mediated effectors calcitonin, vasopressin and forskolin was directly correlated with the levels of activated catalytic subunit. The 'receptorless' mutant M18, which is impaired in calcitonin- and vasopressin-receptor function, did not show any activation of cAMP-PK or uPA production in response to either hormone, whereas cAMP-PK and uPA responses to forskolin were about 35% higher than in parental cells. Analysis of the FIB5-cell line revealed a lesion affecting the regulation of adenylate cyclase activity, whereby basal and stimulated (both receptor- and non-receptor-mediated) adenylate cyclase levels were less than 36% of those in parental cells. The activation of cAMP-PK in response to cyclic AMP effectors was similarly reduced, and uPA induction was concomitantly lower than that in parental cells. The results demonstrate the dependence of uPA induction by cyclic AMP effectors on dissociation of the cAMP-PK holoenzyme, implying the importance of activated free cAMP-PK catalytic subunit in this process. Thus it is concluded that the mutations in the cellular cyclic AMP-generating apparatus of the M18 and FIB5 cell lines impair uPA induction by preventing cAMP-PK activation.