The effect of dopamine on adenylate cyclase activity was investigated in slices of human term placentas. Dopamine elicited a dose-dependent stimulation of cAMP formation with a ED50 value of about 1 X 10(-6)M dopamine and an increase of 110% over the control with 1 X 10(-4)M dopamine. (-)-Epinephrine and (-)-norepinephrine also increased placental cAMP formation. Apomorphine displayed a slight but non-significant stimulatory effect while bromocriptine was not effective. SCH 23390, a selective antagonist of dopamine D1 receptors caused a dose-dependent decrease of the dopamine activation. In contrast, the dopamine increase of cAMP was unaffected by beta- and alpha-adrenergic blocking drugs and by the D2 selective antagonist, (-)-sulpiride. These data indicate that dopamine stimulates cAMP formation in human term placenta through a specific mechanism via D1 dopaminergic receptors positively coupled to adenylate cyclase.