Exposure to the phorbol ester, phorbol 12-myristate, 13-acetate (PMA, 100nM) for 10 minutes enhanced cyclic AMP accumulation in human neutrophils under basal conditions and in response to the beta-adrenergic receptor agonist isoproterenol (ISO), 1 microM) and the adenylate cyclase activator forskolin (FSK, 10mM). Potentiation of responses to ISO by PMA was dose-dependent between 0.1 and 100nM PMA. The diacylglycerol analogue, 1-oleoyl-2-acetylglycerol (OAG) (50 microM) also elevated beta-receptor responses, but 4 beta-phorbol (100nM), lacking the capacity to activate PMA, was ineffective. Short-term exposure (12 seconds) to the peptide n-formylmethionine leucyl-phenylalanine (FMLP, 1 microM) also elevated neutrophil cyclic AMP accumulation. All potentiating effects of PMA on cyclic AMP production were inhibited by the protein kinase inhibitor 1-(5-isoquinolinylsulphonyl)-2-methylpiperazine (H7). Elevation of cyclic AMP by FMLP was insensitive to H7. PMA had no apparent effect on beta-receptor agonist-affinity, distribution between cell-surface and internalised compartments, or the capacity of ISO to induce beta-receptor internalisation. Responses to FSK or ISO in terms of fold-stimulation of basal cyclic AMP accumulation in the presence of PMA were not elevated by PMA. These findings indicate that PMA exerts a potentiating effect on neutrophil adenylate cyclase responses through protein kinase C activation. FMLP elevation of neutrophil cyclic AMP in the absence of other stimuli, appears however, to be insensitive to protein kinase inhibition.