Forskolin (7beta-acetoxy-1alpha,6beta,9alpha-trihydroxy-8,13-epoxy-labd-14-en-11-one) is the first main labdane diterpenoid isolated from the roots of the Indian Plectranthus barbatus ANDREWS and one of the most extensively studied constituents of this plant. The unique character of forskolin as a general direct, rapid and reversible activator of adenylyl cyclase not only underlies its wide range of pharmacological effects but also renders it as a valuable tool in the study of the role of cAMP. The purpose of this review is to provide data presenting the utility of forskolin--as a cAMP activator--for studying the function of cAMP from different biological viewpoints as follows: 1) Investigation on the role of cAMP in various cellular processes in different organs such as gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, reproductive organs, endocrine system, urinary system, olfactory system, nervous system, platelet aggregating system, skin, bones, eyes, and smooth muscles. 2) Studies on the role of cAMP activation and inhibition to understand the pathogenesis (e.g. thyroid autoimmune disorders, leukocyte signal transduction defect in depression, acute malaria infection, secretory dysfunction in inflammatory diseases) as well as its possibly beneficial role for curing diseases such as the regulation of coronary microvascular NO production after heart failure, the attenuation of the development or progression of fibrosis in the heart and lungs, the augmentation of myo-protective effects of ischemic preconditioning especially in the failing hearts after myocardial infarction, the stimulation of the regeneration of injured retinal ganglion cells, the curing of glaucoma and inflammatory diseases, the reducing of cyst formation early in the polycystic kidney disease, and the management of autoimmune disorders by enhancing Fas-mediated apoptosis. 3) Studies on the role of cAMP in the mechanism of actions of a number of drugs and substances such as the effect of the protoberberine alkaloid palmatine on the active ion transport across rat colonic epithelium, the inhibitory effect of retinoic acid on HIV-1-induced podocyte proliferation, the whitening activity of luteolin, the effect of cilostazol on nitric oxide production, an effect that is involved in capillary-like tube formation in human aortic endothelial cells, the apoptotic effect of bullatacin, the effects of paraoxon and chlorpyrifos oxon on nervous system. Moreover, cAMP was found to play a role in acute and chronic exposure to ethanol, in morphine dependence and withdrawal and in behavioral sensitization to cocaine as well as in the protection against cisplatin-induced oxidative injuries.