In vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) of rat tail artery, prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) inhibited a voltage-dependent, delayed rectifier K channel current (Ik). The inhibition was concentration-dependent, via a receptor-mediated mechanism involving the activation of G protein(s) (Ren et al., 1995). In this study, we show that the PGE2-induced inhibition of Ik was mediated by activation of protein kinase A (PKA) and possibly protein kinase C (PKC). Pretreatment of the cells with cyclic adenosine 3',5'-monophosphothioate Rp-isomer (Rp-cAMPs), an inhibitor of adenosine 3', 5'-cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA), almost completely abolished the PGE2-induced inhibition. Forskolin, dibutyryl cAMP (Db-cAMP) and cyclic adenosine 3',5'cyclic monophosphothioate Sp-isomer (Sp-cAMPs), activators of adenylate cyclase and PKA, mimicked the effect of PGE2 on Ik. Phosphodiesterase inhibition by 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine did not alter the PGE2-induced inhibition of Ik. Moreover, we also found that phorbol myristate acetate (PMA), a PKC activator, significantly suppressed Ik. Both the kinase inhibitor staurosporine and down-regulation of PKC by prolonged exposure of the cells to PMA blocked the PGE2-induced inhibition of Ik, but had no effects on the forskolin, Db-cAMP or SpcAMP-induced effect on Ik. Pretreatment of the cells with Rp-cAMPs only partially diminished the degree of Ik inhibition evoked by PMA. Assay of cAMP content indicated that both PGE2 and PMA induced cAMP accumulation. These results strongly suggest that the modulation of Ik by PGE2 in rat tail artery VSMCs involves signal transduction through both PKA and PKC activation. The activation of PKC may potentiate the cAMP-PKA stimulation, whereas the cAMP-PKA cascade did not seem to affect the PKC pathway. These observations suggest that "cross talk" between the two second-messenger systems is involved in the mechanisms that mediate the effect of PGE2.