Voltage-gated Na+ channels, which are responsible for the generation of action potentials in brain, are phosphorylated by cAMP-dependent protein kinase in vitro and in intact neurons. Phosphorylation by cAMP-dependent protein kinase reduces peak Na+ currents 40%--50% in membrane patches excised from rat brain neurons or from CHO cells expressing type IIA Na+ channels. Inhibition of basal cAMP-dependent protein kinase activity by transfection with a plasmid encoding a dominant negative mutant regulatory subunit increases Na+ channel number and activity, indicating that even the basal level of kinase activity is sufficient to reduce Na+ channel activity significantly. Na+ currents in membrane patches from kinase-deficient cells were reduced up to 80% by phosphorylation by cAMP-dependent protein kinase. These effects could be blocked by a specific peptide inhibitor of cAMP-dependent protein kinase and reversed by phosphoprotein phosphatases. Convergent modulation of brain Na+ channels by neurotransmitters acting through the cAMP and protein kinase C signaling pathways may result in associative regulation of electrical activity by different synaptic inputs.