Hormones might produce long-term changes in cell excitability by regulating K+ channel gene expression. Recently, we found that dexamethasone increases expression of Kv1.5 K+ channel mRNA in GH3 rat pituitary tumor cells. We wished to test if this effect is specific for the Kv1.5 gene, if it is mediated by activation of glucocorticoid receptors, and whether it occurs in normal pituitary cells. Here we report that dexamethasone treatment of GH3 cells for 3 hours increases Kv1.5 mRNA without affecting Kv1.4 or Kv2.1 K+ channel mRNAs or D Ca2+ channel mRNA. Treatment with sex steroids fails to alter Kv1.5 mRNA levels, while natural glucocorticoids increase expression of the channel mRNA. RU38486, a competitive inhibitor of glucocorticoid receptors, inhibits the response to dexamethasone. We then tested whether Kv1.5 mRNA is induced by dexamethasone in normal rat pituitary cells. To study in vivo effects, channel mRNA levels in pituitaries from adrenalectomized rats were measured with RNAse protection assays. One day following dexamethasone injection Kv1.5 mRNA was increased 8-fold. Dexamethasone induction of Kv1.5 mRNA was also found in primary cultured anterior pituitary cells. We conclude that activated glucocorticoid receptors specifically induce Kv1.5 K+ channel mRNA expression in normal and clonal anterior pituitary cells.