Signal transduction cascades involving cAMP-dependent protein kinase are highly conserved among a wide variety of organisms. Given the universal nature of this enzyme it is not surprising that cAMP-dependent protein kinase plays a critical role in numerous cellular processes. This is particularly evident in the nervous system where cAMP-dependent protein kinase is involved in neurotransmitter release, gene transcription, and synaptic plasticity. Protein kinase inhibitor peptide (PKI) is an endogenous thermostable peptide that modulates cAMP-dependent protein kinase function. PKI contains two distinct functional domains within its amino acid sequence that allow it to: (1) potently and specifically inhibit the activity of the free catalytic subunit of cAMP-dependent protein kinase and (2) export the free catalytic subunit of cAMP-dependent protein kinase from the nucleus. Three distinct PKI isoforms (PKIalpha, PKIbeta, PKIgamma) have been identified and each isoform is expressed in the brain. PKI modulates neuronal synaptic activity, while PKI also is involved in morphogenesis and symmetrical left-right axis formation. In addition, PKI also plays a role in regulating gene expression induced by cAMP-dependent protein kinase. Future studies should identify novel physiological functions for endogenous PKI both in the nervous system and throughout the body. Most interesting will be the determination whether functional differences exist between individual PKI isoforms which is an intriguing possibility since these isoforms exhibit: (1) cell-type specific tissue expression patterns, (2) different potencies for the inhibition of cAMP-dependent protein kinase activity, and (3) expression patterns that are hormonally, developmentally and cell-cycle regulated. Finally, synthetic peptide analogs of endogenous PKI will continue to be invaluable tools that are used to elucidate the role of cAMP-dependent protein kinase in a variety of cellular processes throughout the nervous system and the rest of the body.