We have determined the effect of forskolin, an adenyl cyclase agonist, and 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX), a phosphodiesterase inhibitor, on the accumulation and cytotoxicity of cisplatin (DDP) in 2008 human ovarian carcinoma cells. In DDP-sensitive 2008 cells, forskolin and IBMX caused 2.1-fold and 2.3-fold increases, respectively, in the short-term accumulation of DDP relative to untreated cells. The inactive analogue, 1,9-dideoxyforskolin, decreased DDP accumulation. Forskolin and IBMX also increased accumulation in A2780 cells. Neither forskolin nor IBMX had any effect on DDP accumulation in DDP-resistant 2008 cells. The effects were detectable as early as 1 min and persisted at 60 min. The concentrations for half-maximal stimulation of DDP accumulation were approximately 0.2 microM for forskolin and 0.2 mM for IBMX. Forskolin caused marked increases in cAMP levels in both sensitive and resistant 2008 cells within 1 min, although there were differences in the subsequent time-courses of the response. Both 2008 cell types had identical cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) activity. These results suggest that there is a target downstream of PKA that is an important participant in DDP accumulation, and that this target is defective or missing in DDP-resistant cells. Following a 1-hr exposure to drugs, forskolin and IBMX at concentrations that were by themselves completely non-toxic increased the slopes of the clonogenic survival vs. DDP concentration curves in 2008 cells 1.9-fold and 3.3-fold, respectively. In DDP-resistant 2008 cells, however, forskolin and IBMX increased the slopes only 1.2 and 2.6-fold, respectively. These effects of forskolin and IBMX on DDP cytotoxicity did not directly correlate with the effects on the 1-hr DDP accumulation which suggested that, in addition to modulating DDP accumulation, these agents increase the cytotoxicity of the intracellular platinum. The results indicate that modulation of cAMP levels can have important effects on DDP accumulation and cytotoxicity in 2008 cells and that these effects are significantly diminished in DDP-resistant cells.