DNA-mediated gene transfer was used to evaluate the cause and effect relationship between mutations in cAMP-dependent protein kinase activity and cellular resistance of adrenocortical tumor cells to ACTH and cAMP. Protein kinase defective, Kin 8 adrenocortical tumor cells were transformed with genomic DNA from an ACTH- and cAMP-responsive adrenocortical cell line and screened for the recovery of morphological responses to the cAMP analog 8-bromo-cAMP (8BrcAMP). 8BrcAMP-responsive transformants were recovered with a frequency of approximately 0.5 per 10(3) transformation-competent cells. These transformants recovered the ability to round up in the presence of ACTH and were able to respond to both ACTH and 8BrcAMP with increased steroidogenesis. They also recovered cAMP-dependent protein kinase activity. The transformants, however, were unstable and concomitantly lost cAMP-dependent protein kinase activity and steroidogenic and morphological responses to ACTH and 8BrcAMP. These observations suggest that a single gene, probably the gene encoding the regulatory subunit of cAMP-dependent protein kinase, is responsible for the resistance of the Kin 8 mutant to ACTH and cAMP.