Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), members of the glucagon-secretin family, have recently been suggested to be involved in the regulation of corticotropin (ACTH) secretion. In this study, we examined the effects of both peptides on POMC gene expression. Using AtT20PL, a clone of the AtT20 mouse corticotroph tumor cells stably transfected with 0.7 kb of the rat POMC 5' promoter-luciferase fusion gene, the effects of both peptides on the POMC promoter activity were estimated by a luciferase assay. PACAP stimulated POMC 5' promoter activity as well as cAMP generation and ACTH secretion in a dose- and time-dependent manner, with the maximal effect being observed 3 h after the start of incubation. A similar effect was observed with VIP. Although the combined effects of PACAP/CRH or VIP/CRH were greater than that of either hormone alone, no such effect was observed between PACAP and VIP. Furthermore, RT-PCR analysis showed the presence of only the PVR3 receptor subtype in this cell line, which is known to have a similar affinity to PACAP and VIP, indicating that both peptides exert their effects through the same receptor. In contrast to the effect of CRH, which was completely abolished by a protein kinase A inhibitor H89, the effects of PACAP/VIP on POMC expression persisted during H89 treatment, suggesting the involvement of alternative intracellular signaling pathway(s) distinct from the protein kinase A system. Our results suggest that PACAP and VIP have positive effects on POMC gene expression and that multiple signaling pathways are involved in the transcriptional event.