Rat parotid acinar cells were employed to investigate the mechanism by which receptor agonists that activate the phosphoinositide pathway enhance the stimulatory effects of adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) on amylase secretion. Norepinephrine (NE), which activates both alpha- and beta-adrenoceptors, evoked a secretory response that was greater than the sum of the responses obtained when NE was employed as a beta-agonist (in the presence of prazosin) and as an alpha-agonist (in the presence of propranolol). The enhancement of amylase secretion induced by NE was accompanied by an augmented rise in Ca2+ influx, as determined by fura-2 analysis. NE-induced cAMP production was comparable to that evoked by NE as a beta-agonist, and the accumulation of [3H]inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) evoked by NE was comparable to that elicited by NE as an alpha-agonist. The beta-adrenoceptor agonist isoproterenol potentiated the rise in cytosolic Ca2+ elicited by the muscarinic agonist carbachol, while possessing no stimulatory effect of its own. Isoproterenol had no effect on carbachol-induced stimulation of [3H]IP3 or 1,3,4,5-[3H]inositol tetrakisphosphate accumulation. Ionomycin and dibutyryl cAMP in combination produced a similar enhancing effect on the Ca2+ signal and amylase release as adrenergic and muscarinic receptor agonists. These results suggest that the synergism between the phosphoinositide and cAMP-signaling systems in parotid cells resides in enhanced Ca2+ availability.