Agonist-bound receptors activate heterotrimeric (alpha beta gamma) G proteins by catalysing replacement by GTP of GDP bound to the alpha subunit, resulting in dissociation of alpha-GTP from the beta gamma subunits. In most cases, alpha-GTP carries the signal to effectors, as in hormonal stimulation and inhibition of adenylyl cyclase by alpha s and alpha i respectively. By contrast, genetic evidence in yeast and studies in mammalian cells suggest that beta gamma subunits of G proteins may also regulate effector pathways. Indeed, of the four recombinant mammalian adenylyl cyclases available for study, two, adenylyl cyclases II and IV, are stimulated by beta gamma. This effect of beta gamma requires costimulation by alpha s-GTP. This conditional pattern of effector responsiveness led to the prediction that receptors coupled to many G proteins will mediate elevation of cellular cyclic AMP, provided that Gs is also active. We now confirm this prediction. Coexpression of mutationally active alpha s with adenylyl cyclase II converted agonists that act through 'inhibitory' receptors (coupled to Gi) into stimulators of cAMP synthesis. Experiments using pertussis toxin and a putative scavenger of beta gamma, the alpha subunit of transducin, suggest that beta gamma subunits of the Gi proteins mediated this stimulation. These findings assign a new signalling function to beta gamma subunits of Gi proteins, the conditional stimulation of cAMP synthesis by adenylyl cyclase II.