Cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) is an important second messenger in the hormonal regulation of bone metabolism. cAMP is inactivated by the cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases (PDEs), a superfamily of enzymes divided into 11 known families, designated PDE1-11. Interference with the cAMP signaling pathway has been suggested as one mechanism causing glucocorticoid induced osteoporosis. We speculated that glucocorticoids could affect the cAMP pathway by a down-regulation of PDE-mediated cAMP hydrolysis. The main cAMP hydrolysing enzyme families of human MG-63 and SaOS-2 osteosarcoma cells were identified as PDE1 and PDE4 by assaying the PDE activity of Q-sepharose fractions and cell homogenates with selective inhibitors. Treatment with the glucocorticoid dexamethasone (Dex) decreased cAMP-PDE activity by up to 50%, without affecting cGMP-PDE activity. Dex treatment reduced the sensitivity of the total cAMP-PDE activity towards the PDE4 selective PDE inhibitor rolipram. Forskolin stimulated cAMP accumulation was increased 30-60-fold in the presence of rolipram. Treatment with Dex did not affect the basal or forskolin stimulated cAMP accumulation, but treatment resulted in a reduced effect of rolipram on cAMP accumulation. Expression of the following cAMP-PDE subtypes were detected by reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR): PDE1A, PDE1C, PDE2A, PDE3A, PDE4A, PDE4B, PDE4C, PDE4D, PDE7A, PDE7B, PDE8A, PDE10A and PDE11A. Using semi-quantitative RT-PCR, we detected a 50-70% decrease in the mRNA of PDE4A and PDE4B subtypes following Dex treatment. Further analysis revealed that Dex reduced the PDE4A4 and PDE4B1 isoforms. PDE4A1 PDE4A, PDE4A7, PDE4A10, PDE4B2 were also expressed, but Dex did not affect the transcription of these isoforms. We conclude that Dex treatment could affect the cAMP signaling pathway of human osteosarcoma cells by reducing type 4 cAMP-phosphodiesterase (PDE4).