Prostatic secretory and basal or stem cells were isolated from rat ventral prostate lobes by collagenase dispersion and density centrifugation in a Percoll gradient. The membrane-bound adenylyl cyclase of secretory cells could be activated in a dose-dependent manner by vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP ED50 10(-7)M) but not thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). Conversely, only TRH could significantly stimulate the adenylyl cyclase in basal cell membranes (ED50 5 X 10(-7). In two separate studies enzyme activity was stimulated seven- and 13-fold by this peptide. This action of TRH on prostatic basal cells supports previous reports that high levels of immunologically active TRH have been found in prostate tissue and that TRH stimulates the growth of prostatic cancer cells in vitro.