We have previously shown that prolactin-releasing peptide (PrRP) stimulates catecholamine release from PC12 cells (rat pheochromocytoma cell line). However, it is not known whether PrRP also affects catecholamine biosynthesis. Thus, we examined the effect of PrRP on catecholamine biosynthesis in PC12 cells. PrRP31 (>10 nM) and PrRP20 (>100 nM) significantly increased the activity and expression level of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), a rate-limiting enzyme, in catecholamine biosynthesis. However, the PrRP20-stimulated TH activity was markedly weaker than that of PrRP31. PrRP31 (>1 nM) and PrRP20 (>10 nM) significantly induced an increase in the level of PKC activity. Both Ro 32-0432 (a protein kinase C inhibitor) and H89 (a protein kinase A inhibitor) effectively suppressed the PrRP31 (100 nM)-induced TH mRNA level. Next, we examined the effect of PrRP on mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs). PrRP31 (1 microM) significantly induced an increase in the activity of extracellular signal-related kinases (ERKs) and the stress-activated protein kinase/c-jun N terminal kinase (SAPK/JNK). In contrast to ERKs and JNK, PrRP31 did not affect P38 MAPK activity. Consistent with these findings, pretreatment of cells with the MEK-1-inhibitor, PD-98059 (50 microM), significantly inhibited the PrRP31 (100 nM)-induced increase in TH mRNA. These results indicate that PrRP stimulates catecholamine synthesis through both the PKC and PKA pathways in PC12 cells.