Induction of urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) in response to either reagents activating cAMP-dependent protein kinase (cAMP-PK) or the calcium ion phospholipid-dependent kinase (C-kinase) was compared in the LLC-PK1 and T47D cell lines. The two cell lines exhibited quantitatively different responses to calcitonin, to the phosphodiesterase inhibitor isobutylmethylxanthine, and to the adenylate cyclase activator forskolin. Both showed activation of cAMP-PK in response to all these reagents, with T47D cells displaying a greater extent of activation. T47D cells, however, failed to produce uPA in response to calcitonin, forskolin, or the cAMP analog 8-bromo-cAMP, whereas LLC-PK1 cells produced high levels of uPA in response to all these agents. Both cell lines responded to phorbol esters in terms of uPA induction, though to differing extents. Phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) was shown conclusively not to activate cAMP-PK in either cell line, even at concentrations 10-fold higher than those promoting maximal uPA induction. It was concluded that phorbol ester-mediated induction of uPA does not involve cAMP or cAMP-PK activation. These results are discussed in relation to proposed models concerning the role of cAMP-PK in uPA induction.