We report the results of experiments which support the hypothesis that, in mouse oocytes, a decrease in intraoocyte cyclic AMP (cAMP) initiates meiotic maturation; oocytes microinjected with cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase (PDE) underwent germinal vesicle breakdown (GVBD) in the presence of 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX), which inhibited GVBD both in oocytes not injected with PDE and in oocytes injected with heat-inactivated PDE. Cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase (PK) has been proposed to mediate maintenance of meiotic arrest by cAMP. In support of this hypothesis is the observation that 2'-deoxy cAMP, which does not activate PK, did not maintain meiotic arrest as did cAMP; this result was obtained both by microinjection of these compounds and by incubating oocytes in the presence of their membrane-permeable N6-monobutyryl derivatives. Furthermore, microinjection into oocytes of the heat-stable inhibitor of PK, PKI, induced GVBD in the presence of either dibutyryl cAMP (dbcAMP) or IBMX. Meiotic arrest was maintained in the absence of dbcAMP or IBMX, however, by microinjected catalytic subunit of PK, but not by catalytic subunit coinjected with PKI. In addition, specific changes in oocyte phosphoproteins that preceded resumption of meiosis were induced, in the presence of dbcAMP, by microinjected PKI; these changes were also tightly coupled with commitment of oocytes to resume meiosis. These results are discussed in terms of our model for regulation of meiotic arrest and maturation.