The precise mechanistic role of the cAMP-dependent protein kinase (cAMP-PK) in cAMP-mediated gene induction remains unclear. Renal epithelial cell mutants were compared to the LLC-PK1 parental cell line for induction of the cAMP-responsive urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) gene, as quantitated by the technique of mRNA solution hybridization. The FIB4 and FIB6 mutants, which possess less than 10% parental cAMP-PK catalytic (C) subunit activity, showed markedly diminished uPA mRNA induction in response to agents elevating intracellular cAMP such as the cAMP analogue 8-bromo-cAMP and the adenylate cyclase-stimulating hormones vasopressin and calcitonin. In contrast, the mutant cells responded to a similar or greater extent than the parental cells in terms of uPA mRNA induction following treatment with the Ca2+/phospholipid-dependent protein kinase activator phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA). Elevation of intracellular cAMP was found to induce a translocation of the cAMP-PK C subunit from the perinuclear Golgi region to the nucleus in both parental and mutant cell lines, as shown by immunocytochemical techniques. Results argue for the role of the cAMP-PK C subunit activity and possibly nuclear translocation of the C subunit in cAMP-mediated uPA induction, which is mechanistically distinct from the PMA-stimulated response.