The two forms of pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP), PACAP27 and PACAP38, are neuropeptide hormones related to the vasoactive intestinal peptide/secretin/glucagon family of peptides. PACAP receptors that are positively coupled to adenylyl cyclase and phospholipase C have been recently identified. We have investigated the expression of PACAP-Rs in undifferentiated and differentiated PC-12 cells. PACAP27 and PACAP38 failed to significantly increase cAMP or [3H]inositol monophosphate levels in undifferentiated PC-12 cells treated with vehicle, insulin-like growth factor I, or epidermal growth factor but greatly elevated levels after differentiation with nerve growth factor (NGF) or basic fibroblast growth factor. PACAP responsiveness increased significantly after 24 hr of NGF treatment, reaching a maximum within 4 days. At this time of differentiation, the effect of PACAP was dose dependent between 1 nM and 0.1 microM, whereas vasoactive intestinal peptide, at the maximal dose of 10 microM, slightly increased cAMP formation and failed to affect [3H]inositol monophosphate content. Radioreceptor assays, performed with 125I-PACAP27, revealed the induction of high affinity type I PACAP receptors in differentiated PC-12 cells. Using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction methodology, we showed the absence of type I PACAP receptor mRNAs in undifferentiated PC-12 cells and the expression of PACAP-R-hop mRNA after NGF or basic fibroblast growth factor treatment. The increased PACAP responsiveness induced by these growth factors in PC-12 cells may therefore result from the expression of the PACAP-R-hop isoform, positively coupled to both adenylyl cyclase and phospholipase C.