Many of the G-protein-coupled receptors for hormones that bind to the cell surface can signal to the interior of the cell through several different classes of G protein. For example, although most of the actions of the prototype beta2-adrenergic receptor are mediated through Gs proteins and the cyclic-AMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) system, beta-adrenergic receptors can also couple to Gi proteins. Here we investigate the mechanism that controls the specificity of this coupling. We show that in HEK293 cells, stimulation of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase by the beta2-adrenergic receptor is mediated by the betagamma subunits of pertussis-toxin-sensitive G proteins through a pathway involving the non-receptor tyrosine kinase c-Src and the G protein Ras. Activation of this pathway by the beta2-adrenergic receptor requires that the receptor be phosphorylated by PKA because it is blocked by H-89, an inhibitor of PKA. Additionally, a mutant of the receptor, which lacks the sites normally phosphorylated by PKA, can activate adenylyl cyclase, the enzyme that generates cAMP, but not MAP kinase. Our results demonstrate that a mechanism previously shown to mediate uncoupling of the beta2-adrenergic receptor from Gs and thus heterologous desensitization (PKA-mediated receptor phosphorylation), also serves to 'switch' coupling of this receptor from Gs to Gi and initiate a new set of signalling events.