We investigated the regulation of the activity of amino acid transport system L in the JAR human placental choriocarcinoma cell line by agents which are known to modulate the activities of three different classes of protein kinases, A-kinase, C-kinase and CaM-kinase. The system L activity was measured by determining the uptake of leucine in these cells, grown as confluent monolayers. Leucine uptake in these cells was predominantly Na(+)-independent, was stimulated by lowering the extracellular pH and was inhibited by hydrophobic neutral amino acids. These characteristics demonstrate that uptake of leucine in this cell line occurs primarily via system L. Treatment of the cells with cholera toxin and forskolin, agents which are known to elevate intracellular cAMP levels, did not have any effect on the activity of system L. 4 beta-Phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate, an activator of C-kinase, but not the inactive analogue 4 alpha-phorbol 12,13-didecanoate, caused a significant stimulation of system L. The involvement of C-kinase in the phorbol ester-induced stimulation was supported by the finding that staurosporine, an inhibitor of C-kinase, effectively blocked the stimulation. Calmodulin antagonists, calmidazolium, W-7 and CGS 9343 B stimulated system L activity markedly. The potency of these antagonists was in the following order: calmidazolium greater than CGS 9343 B greater than W-7. This stimulatory effect was specific for system L because systems A and ASC were not stimulated by these agents. The stimulation caused by these agents was primarily due to an increase in the maximal velocity, the apparent Km of the system being only minimally affected. It is concluded that the activity of amino acid transport system L in the JAR human placental choriocarcinoma cell line is stimulated by C-kinase, inhibited by CaM-kinase and unaffected by A-kinase.