Basal and stimulated adenylyl cyclase activities and Gs and Gi protein alpha-subunit levels (Gs alpha and Gi alpha) were compared in postmortem frontal cortex from 18 suicide cases and 22 matched controls. Basal, guanosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) (GTP gamma S) stimulated and forskolin stimulated enzyme activities were significantly lower in the suicide cases, compared to controls. These effects were most apparent in those suicides that had died from violent means or that had had a history of depression and appeared to reflect the lowered basal activity rather than a reduced ability of either GTP gamma S or forskolin to activate the enzyme. No significant correlations were found between adenylyl cyclase activity and either subject age or postmortem delay. Western blotting revealed no significant differences in Gs alpha and Gi alpha levels between control and suicide cases. However, levels of the smaller Gs alpha isoform (Gs alpha-S) showed a tendency to be increased in the violent death suicide and depressed suicide subgroups, compared to controls. Levels of the larger Gs alpha isoform (Gs alpha-L) showed a significant positive correlation with subject age. Gi alpha levels showed a significant negative correlation with subject age and a positive correlation with postmortem delay. These results support the hypothesis that suicidal behaviour and depressive illness may be associated with an altered regulation of adenylyl cyclase.