The expression of the androgen receptor (AR) gene is regulated by androgens. Although androgens down-regulate AR mRNA in most cell lines and tissues, including the prostate, up-regulation occurs in some tissues. Androgen-mediated reduction in AR mRNA is reproduced in COS1 cells and in the androgen-sensitive human prostate cancer cell line LNCaP when each expresses the AR cDNA. We have previously established that the AR cDNA contains the requisite sequences for this down-regulation. Here we shown that androgen promoted up-regulation of AR mRNA in two androgen-independent human prostate cancer cell lines, PC3 and DU145, when each was transfected with a human AR cDNA. This effect was due to the AR cDNA and not to the heterologous promoter driving AR expression. In addition to up-regulation of AR mRNA, androgen induced comparable increases in AR protein levels in PC3 cells stably expressing an AR cDNA (PC3/AR). Up-regulation of AR in PC3/AR cells was accompanied by failure of these cells to undergo desensitization or inactivation of AR following prolonged (96 h) androgen administration, whereas the same conditions resulted in desensitization of AR transactivation in LNCaP cells and in CVl cells that stably express the AR cDNA. Androgen treatment of PC3/AR cells resulted in induction of an androgen-regulated reporter gene (MMTV-CAT) as well as the native prostate-specific antigen gene, which is silent in untransfected PC3 but is androgen up-regulated in LNCaP and in the prostate. These results suggest that ectopic expression of AR in androgen-independent prostate cancer cell lines establishes both typical and atypical androgenic responses in a target gene-specific manner. Androgenic up-regulation of AR cDNA expression may be due to distinct signaling mechanisms that influence androgen action in androgen-independent prostate cancer cells.