The cellular basis of cystic fibrosis (CF) is a defect in a cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP)-activated chloride channel (CF transmembrane conductance regulator) in epithelial cells that leads to decreased chloride ion transport and impaired water transport across the cell membrane. This study investigated whether it was possible to activate the defective chloride channel in cystic fibrosis respiratory epithelial cells with 4-phenylbutyrate (4PBA), genistein and 8-cyclopentyl-1,3-dipropylxanthine (CPX). The CF bronchial epithelial cell line CFBE41o-, which expresses the deltaF508 mutation, was treated with these agents and loss of Cl-, indicating Cl- efflux, measured by X-ray microanalysis. 8-bromo-cAMP alone did not induce Cl- efflux in CFBE41o- cells, but after incubation with 4PBA a significant efflux of Cl- occurred. Stimulation of cells with a combination of genistein and cAMP also induced Cl- efflux, whereas a combination of pretreatment with 4PBA and a combined stimulation with genistein and cAMP induced an even larger Cl- efflux. Cl- efflux could also be stimulated by CPX, but this effect was not enhanced by 4PBA pretreatment. The deltaF508 mutation leads to impaired processing of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator. The increased efflux of chloride after 4-phenylbutyrate treatment can be explained by the fact that 4-phenylbutyrate allows the deltaF508 cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator to escape degradation and to be transported to the cell surface. Genistein and 8-cyclopentyl-1,3-dipropylxanthine act by stimulating chloride ion efflux by increasing the probability of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator being open. The combination of 4-phenylbutyrate and genistein may be useful in a potential pharmacological therapy for cystic fibrosis patients with the deltaF508 mutation.