1. In both the intact guinea pig myometrium and human platelets, cAMP accumulation was enhanced by prostaglandin I2 (prostacyclin, PGI2) and forskolin with potentiated responses in the simultaneous presence of both effectors. Under basal conditions, forskolin caused rises in platelet cAMP concentration through a single low-affinity interaction (Kapp = 90 microM) while in myometrium, activation involved both a low-affinity (Kapp = 10 microM) and a high-affinity (Kapp = 0.8 microM) component. The contribution of the high-affinity component could be reduced when endogenous PGI2 was decreased. In both tissues, the synergistic effect of forskolin in the presence of PGI2 was mediated by a single high-affinity interaction (Kapp = 0.3 microM). The data were consistent with a low-affinity interaction of the diterpene with the cyclase catalytic unit C generating the C...forskolin state and with a high-affinity interaction of the diterpene with the activated complex (stimulatory regulatory protein) and C generating the potentiated Gs-C...forskolin state. 2. Both norepinephrine in platelets and carbachol in the myometrium (via Gi, the inhibitory regulatory protein) inhibited PGI2-mediated cAMP accumulation (EC50 = 100 nM and 8 nM respectively). The persistently activated cAMP-generating system induced by cholera toxin in the myometrium was also susceptible to inhibition but the EC50 for carbachol was increased to 50 nM and the extent of inhibition was decreased. Forskolin-mediated effect in platelets was inhibited by norepinephrine as was the PGI2 response. By contrast, the synergistic state of the cyclase resisted the inhibitory action of norepinephrine and carbachol in platelets and myometrium respectively. In the myometrium, where the cAMP response due to forskolin alone partially involved some synergistic Gs-C ... forskolin species, carbachol at 50 microM elicited no more than 30% inhibition. Inhibition was partly improved (60% inhibition at 1 microM carbachol) when the contribution of the Gs-C species was decreased by lowering the concentration of local PGI2. Partial inhibition by norepinephrine was similarly observed in platelets under partial synergistic conditions. The data suggest that receptor-mediated inhibition of cAMP generation could be differentially expressed depending on the nature of the active species of the cyclase involved in the stimulatory responses.