Epac1 is a Rap-specific guanine-nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) which is activated by the binding of cAMP to a cyclic nucleotide monophosphate (cNMP)-binding domain. We investigated the equilibrium and dynamics of the interaction of cAMP and Epac1 using a newly designed fluorescence analogue of cAMP, 8-MABA-cAMP. We observed that the interaction of cAMP, measured by competition with 8-MABA-cAMP, with an isolated cNMP binding domain of Epac1 has an overall equilibrium constant (Kd) of 4 microM and that the kinetics of the interaction are highly dynamic. The binding properties of cAMP are apparently not affected when the catalytic domain is present, despite the fact that binding of cAMP results in activation of Epac1. This indicates that for the activation process, no appreciable binding energy is required. However, when bound to Rap1b, the apparent Kd of Epac to cAMP was about fivefold lower, suggesting that substrate interaction stabilizes cAMP binding. Since the fluorescent analogues used here were either less able or unable to induce activation of Epac1, we concluded that the binding of nucleotide to Epac and the activation of GEF activity are uncoupled processes and that thus appropriate cAMP analogues can be used as inhibitors of the Epac1-mediated signal transduction pathway of Rap.