This study was conducted to determine whether active ion transport in the pigmented rabbit conjunctiva was subjected to cyclic AMP modulation. 8-BrcAMP and compounds that may affect intracellular cAMP levels were tested for their effects on the conjunctival short-circuit current (Isc) following mucosal application. Conjunctival Isc was increased by 1 mM 8-BrcAMP, 0.001-20 microM forskolin, 0.01-2 mM theophylline, 2 microM 1-epinephrine, and 20 microM terbutaline in a Cl(-)-containing but not in a Cl(-)-free medium. The increase in Isc induced by 1 mM 8-BrcAMP was reversed by 1 mM N-phenylanthranilic acid, suggesting enhancement of Cl- secretion by cAMP. Similarly, the increase in Isc induced by 20 microM terbutaline was blunted by 1 microM timolol, suggesting a role for beta 2 adrenergic modulation of Cl- secretion. Collectively, these results are consistent with the notion of cAMP modulation of conjunctival active ion transport.