Many functions of the immune and inflammatory responses are inhibited by agents that increase intracellular levels of cAMP. Recent investigations have revealed that cAMP levels in inflammatory cells are regulated by cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases (PDEs) belonging to the PDE4 family (cAMP-specific PDEs). At least four different genes are known to encode PDE4 isozymes, which are characterized by their selectivity for cAMP over cGMP and their sensitivity to the antidepressant drug rolipram. The aim of our studies was to investigate whether monocytic cells could regulate PDE4 activity and whether certain PDE4 isozymes were expressed preferentially over others. Our results showed that treatment of peripheral blood monocytes or closely related Mono Mac 6 cells with dibutyryl-cAMP or other cAMP-elevating agents transiently increased rolipram-sensitive PDE4 activity 2-3-fold, without concomitant increases in cGMP-inhibited PDE (PDE3) activity. PDE4 activity was predominantly cytosolic, whereas PDE3 activity was localized to the particulate fraction. Our Northern and Western blot studies with reagents recognizing three distinct PDE4 gene products (PDE4A, PDE4B, and PDE4D) revealed that their expression is transcriptionally regulated in monocytic cells. Although none of the three isozymes was detectable under normal culture conditions, all of these were up-regulated when Mono Mac 6 cells were exposed to dibutyryl-cAMP. Distinct differences were observed in their temporal patterns of expression. Endotoxin lipopolysaccharide, a potent monocyte stimulus, also enhanced PDE4 activity in monocytic cells. These data indicate that monocytic cells may express different PDE4 isozymes, depending on their state of activation or differentiation. These isozymes could thus regulate intracellular cAMP levels at various stages of monocyte activation and could thereby be important in limiting the inflammatory response.