The presence of receptors for the novel neuropeptide pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) has been recently demonstrated in the external granule cell layer of the cerebellum, a germinative matrix that generates the majority of cerebellar interneurons. In the present study, we have taken advantage of the possibility of obtaining a culture preparation that is greatly enriched in immature cerebellar granule cells to investigate the effect of PACAP on the adenylyl cyclase and phospholipase C transduction pathways. The two molecular forms of PACAP, i.e., 27-(PACAP27) and 38-(PACAP38) amino-acid forms of PACAP, induced a dose-dependent stimulation of cyclic AMP production in granule cells. The potencies of PACAP27 and PACAP38 were similar (ED50 = 0.12 +/- 0.01 and 0.23 +/- 0.07 nM, respectively), whereas vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) was approximately 100 times less potent. PACAP27 and PACAP38 also induced a dose-dependent stimulation of polyphosphoinositide breakdown (ED50 = 19.1 +/- 6.3 and 13.4 +/- 6.0 nM, respectively), whereas VIP had no effect on polyphosphoinositide metabolism. The effect of PACAP38 on inositol phosphate formation was significantly reduced by U-73122 and by pertussis toxin, indicating that activation of PACAP receptors causes stimulation of a phospholipase C through a pertussis toxin-sensitive G protein. In contrast, forskolin and dibutyryl cyclic AMP did not affect PACAP-induced stimulation of inositol phosphates. Taken together, the present results demonstrate that PACAP stimulates independently the adenylyl cyclase and the phospholipase C transduction pathways in immature cerebellar granule cells. These data favor the concept that PACAP may play important roles in the control of proliferation and/or differentiation of cerebellar neuroblasts.