The mode of action of PTHrP in the regulation of sea bream (Sparus auratus) interrenal cortisol production was studied in vitro using a dynamic superfusion system. Piscine (1-34)PTHrP (10(-6)-10(-11) M) stimulated cortisol production in a dose-dependent manner. The ED50 of (1-34)PTHrP was 2.8 times higher than that of (1-39)ACTH, and maximum increase in cortisol production in response to 10(-8) M of (1-34)PTHrP was approximately 7-fold lower than for 10(-8) M of (1-39)ACTH. In contrast to (1-34)PTHrP, piscine (10-20)PTHrP, (79-93)PTHrP, and (100-125)PTHrP (10(-9)-10(-7) M) did not stimulate cortisol production. The effect of piscine (1-34)PTHrP on cortisol production was abolished by N-terminal peptides in which the first amino acid (Ser) was absent and by simultaneous addition of inhibitors of the adenylyl cyclase-protein kinase A and phospholipase C-protein kinase C intracellular pathways but not by each separately. The PTHrP-induced signal transduction was further investigated by measurements of cAMP production and [H3]myo-inositol incorporation in an interrenal cell suspension. Piscine (1-34)PTHrP increased cAMP and total inositol phosphate accumulation, which is indicative that the mechanism of action of PTHrP in interrenal tissue involves the activation of both the adenylyl cyclase-cAMP and phospholipase C-inositol phosphate signaling pathways. These results, together with the expression of mRNA for PTHrP and for PTH receptor (PTHR) type 1 and PTHR type 3 receptors in sea bream interrenal tissue, suggest a specific paracrine or autocrine steroidogenic action of PTHrP mediated by the PTHRs.