cAMP is involved in a wide variety of cellular processes that were thought to be mediated by protein kinase A (PKA). However, cAMP also directly regulates Epac1 and Epac2, guanine nucleotide-exchange factors (GEFs) for the small GTPases Rap1 and Rap2 (refs 2,3). Unfortunately, there is an absence of tools to discriminate between PKA- and Epac-mediated effects. Therefore, through rational drug design we have developed a novel cAMP analogue, 8-(4-chloro-phenylthio)-2'-O-methyladenosine-3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (8CPT-2Me-cAMP), which activates Epac, but not PKA, both in vitro and in vivo. Using this analogue, we tested the widespread model that Rap1 mediates cAMP-induced regulation of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). However, both in cell lines in which cAMP inhibits growth-factor-induced ERK activation and in which cAMP activates ERK, 8CPT-2Me-cAMP did not affect ERK activity. Moreover, in cell lines in which cAMP activates ERK, inhibition of PKA and Ras, but not Rap1, abolished cAMP-mediated ERK activation. We conclude that cAMP-induced regulation of ERK and activation of Rap1 are independent processes.