The neuropeptides galanin and pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide (PACAP) have been implicated in the physiological regulation of lactotroph function. Using the 235-1 clonal lactotroph rat cell line we have studied the signalling pathways mediating the secretory and mitogenic responses to galanin and PACAP. Both peptides stimulated prolactin release to a similar maximal extent. PACAP (100 nM) stimulated an increase in the proliferation rate of 235-1 cells, but was significantly less effective than 100 nM galanin (161.8 +/- 2.3% vs 296.1 +/- 9.1% of control). PACAP stimulated cAMP accumulation with an ED50 of 3.2 nM, and a maximal effect of almost two-fold at a concentration of 100 nM. Galanin depleted cAMP, by 30% at a concentration of 100 nM. The aminosteroid phospholipase C (PLC) inhibitor U-73122 virtually abolished maximal peptide stimulated prolactin release. Depletion of inositol phosphates or downregulation of protein kinase C reduced maximal peptide stimulated prolactin release from about 260% to about 160% of unstimulated release. Both peptides at a concentration of 100 nM caused a sustained increase in intracellular calcium when incubated with cells for 30 min. These results demonstrate that both peptides stimulate prolactin release and the proliferation rate of 235-1 cells. The most important signalling pathway for prolactin release activated by both peptides is via PLC, although they also regulate cAMP levels, which are increased by PACAP and decreased by galanin. Despite maximal peptide stimulated prolactin release being equal, galanin has a greater mitogenic effect on 235-1 cells than PACAP, raising the possibility that it activates an additional mitogenic signalling pathway.