Protein kinase A (PKA) has been shown to modulate the pattern of gene expression via transcription factors such as cAMP response element binding protein. However, in F9 embryonal carcinoma cells which lack endogenous functional cAMP response element binding protein, we have found that PKA is still able to control gene transcription through the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) by up-regulating its hormone-dependent trans-activation. Dose-response analysis indicates that PKA does not alter the ligand binding affinity of GR. PKA seems to act through the DNA binding domain of GR, since GR mutants which lack either the amino-terminal or the ligand binding domain are still able to be up-regulated by PKA. In support of this proposal, we demonstrate that PKA can enhance the DNA binding activity of GR. Our results suggest a novel mechanism by which PKA modulates the steroid sensitivity of a target cell by enhancing the DNA binding activity of GR for its cognate hormone response elements.