1. The mouse AtT-20/D16-16 anterior pituitary tumour cell line was used as a model system for the study of protein kinase C (PKC)-mediated enhancement of calcium- and guanine nucleotide-evoked adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH) secretion. 2. A profile of the PKC isozymes present in AtT-20 cells was obtained by Western blotting analysis and it was found that AtT-20 cells express the alpha, beta, epsilon and zeta isoforms of PKC. 3. PKC isozymes were activated by the use of substances reported to activate particular isoforms of the enzyme. The effects of these substances were investigated in both intact and electrically-permeabilized cells. Phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA, EC50 = 1 +/- 0.05 nM, which activates all isozymes of PKC, except the zeta isozyme), thymeleatoxin (TMX, EC50 = 10 +/- 0.5 nM, which activates the alpha, beta and gamma isozymes) and 12-deoxyphorbol 13-phenylacetate 20-acetate (dPPA, EC50 = 3 +/- 0.5 nM, a beta 1-selective isozyme activator) all stimulated ACTH secretion from intact cells in a concentration-dependent manner. Maximal TMX stimulated ACTH secretion was of a similar degree to that obtained in response to PMA but maximal dPPA-stimulated ACTH secretion was only 60-70% of that obtained in response to PMA or TMX. 4. Calcium stimulated ACTH secretion from electrically-permeabilized cells over the concentration-range of 100 nM to 10 microM. PMA (100 nM), TMX (100 nM) but not dPPA (100 nM) enhanced the amount of ACTH secreted at every concentration of calcium investigated. PMA (100 nM) and TMX (100 nM)significantly enhanced ACTH secretion in the effective absence of calcium (i.e. where the free calcium concentration is nM).5. GTP-gamma-S stimulated ACTH secretion from permeabilized cells in a concentration-dependent manner with a threshold of 1 micro M. PMA (100 nM), TMX (100 nM) but not dPPA (100 nM) increased the amount of ACTH secretion evoked by every concentration of GTP-gamma-S investigated.6. The PKC inhibitor, chelerythrine chloride (10 micro M), blocked the PMA (100 nM)-evoked enhancement of calcium- and GTP-micro-S-stimulated ACTH secretion but did not significantly alter calcium- or GTP-micro-S-evoked secretion itself.7. The present paper indicates that AtT-20 cells express multiple isoforms of PKC and that these act at different sites in the secretory pathway for ACTH secretion. The alpha and epsilon isozymes of PKC can act distal to calcium entry to modulate the ability of increased cytosolic calcium concentrations to stimulate ACTH secretion. This site of action is either at the level of, or at some stage distal to, a GTP-binding protein which mediates the effects of calcium upon ACTH secretion. The beta isozyme of PKC may act ata stage early in the secretory pathway to regulate the cytosolic calcium concentration.