Pyroglutamyl peptidase II (PPII) is a thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) hydrolyzing ectoenzyme with a narrow specificity. In the adenohypophysis, it is present on lactotropes. This study was undertaken in order to determine whether TRH itself regulates PPII activity in the adenohypophysis. After 5 days in culture, dispersed cells from female pituitaries expressed detectable levels of PPII activity when 10(-8) M 3,3',5'-triiodo-L-thyronine was present throughout the culture. 10(-6) M TRH decreased PPII activity with a maximal effect (down to 46% of initial values) at 16 h and an ED50 of 10(-9) M. [3Me-His2]TRH, a potent agonist of the TRH receptor was effective at lower concentrations (ED50: 1.6 x 10(-10) M). Phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate (PMA; 10(-6) M), a protein kinase C (PKC) activator, diminished PPII activity to 61% or initial values with an ED50 of 2.2 x 10(-8) M. Maximal effects of PMA and TRH were not additive. Neither PMA nor TRH effects were reversed by inhibitors of protein kinases (1-(5-isoquinolinesulfonyl)-2-methyl-piperazine or sphingosine or staurosporine); TRH-induced downregulation of the enzyme was not modified by PMA pretreatment. TRH had no effect on two other ectopeptidases, endopeptidase 24.11 and dipeptidyl aminopeptidase IV. These data demonstrate that TRH specifically downregulates PPII activity in adenohypophyseal cells through TRH receptor activation and suggest that the activation of a presumably calcium-independent PKC mimics the TRH effect. TRH regulation of PPII activity may contribute to adjust lactotrope responsiveness to TRH.