The beta-amyloid precursor protein (beta APP) is a highly conserved integral membrane protein expressed in most mammalian tissues and found at highest levels in the nervous system. Cerebral deposition of the amyloid beta-peptide (A beta), derived by proteolysis of beta APP, is an early and invariant feature of Alzheimer's disease. Protein phosphorylation by protein kinase C (PKC) has been found to regulate the metabolism of beta APP into nonamyloidogenic and amyloidogenic derivatives, but both the mechanism of these effects and the nature of beta APP phosphorylation are unknown. When labeled in vivo with [32P]orthophosphate, beta APP was phosphorylated only on serine residues in the N-terminal half of the extracellular domain, resulting in the secretion of phosphorylated soluble beta APP. PKC-mediated stimulation of beta APP secretion and concurrent inhibition of A beta release did not involve enhanced phosphorylation of beta APP and proceeded in the absence of cytoplasmic or extracellular phosphorylation of the precursor. The region of beta APP required for this indirect regulation by PKC was largely restricted to a 64 amino acid stretch around the secretory cleavage site. Moreover, in a truncated molecule designed to release soluble beta APP without the need for proteolytic cleavage, secretion was no longer regulated by PKC. Our data indicate that PKC-mediated pathways play a pivotal role in the control of beta APP metabolism and amyloid formation. However, in contrast to current postulates, this regulation is independent of beta APP phosphorylation and instead involves phosphorylation of other substrates that alter beta APP processing, such as beta APP-cleaving proteases.