The D2 dopamine agonist, bromocriptine, has been used as treatment for human PRL-secreting pituitary adenomas. The result of bromocriptine treatment is often a substantial reduction of tumor mass, suggesting that the dopamine agonist is acting as an antiproliferative agent. This action can be observed with a clonal pituitary tumor cell line. The agonist activation of the D2 dopamine receptor inhibits the growth of GH4ZR7 cells, a GH4C1 cell line stably transfected with the cDNA encoding the short form of the D2 dopamine receptor. This effect of dopamine was not sensitive to overnight treatment with 100 ng/ml pertussis toxin. Treatment of GH4ZR7 cells with the phorbol ester 4 beta-phorbol 12,13-didecanoate resulted in the loss of dopaminergic inhibition of growth, whereas treatment with 4 alpha-phorbol 12,13-didecanoate had no effect. Inhibitors of protein kinase-C (PKC), such as staurosporine and H7, also blocked the effect of dopamine. Down-regulation of cellular PKC by phorbol ester treatment resulted in a complete loss of dopaminergic inhibition of growth. Long term treatment of GH4ZR7 cells with TRH results in a specific down-regulation of the epsilon form of PKC and abolished the ability of dopamine to inhibit growth. These results suggest that PKC epsilon is involved in mediating the antiproliferative effects of dopamine. This mediation of growth appears to be through a novel signaling pathway for the D2 dopamine receptor.