We have studied factors controlling message levels for the neuronal growth- and plasticity-associated protein, GAP-43. Following exposure of PC12 cells to various effectors, cytoplasmic RNA was isolated and analyzed by Northern transfer and autoradiography using a GAP-43 cDNA probe. Induction by NGF is apparent after 3 hr exposure and reaches maximal levels at 24 hr. Beyond 24 hr, levels remain constant in the continued presence of NGF. Induction is insensitive to variations in culture conditions, such as plating density or substrate, which influence NGF-induced neurite outgrowth. Other inducers, in order of decreasing efficacy, are FGF, dBcAMP, TPA, K+, and EGF. Insulin and retinoic acid are ineffective. Dexamethasone partially inhibited basal expression as well as induction by NGF, FGF, dBcAMP, and TPA. The methyltransferase inhibitor 5'-S-(2-methyl-propyl)adenosine completely inhibited induction by NGF, FGF, and dBcAMP. Inhibition of protein synthesis by cycloheximide partially decreased induction by NGF, FGF, and TPA but slightly enhanced dBcAMP induction. Complete down-regulation of protein kinase C by chronic TPA treatment completely eliminated the TPA response but slightly enhanced induction by NGF. These findings and the results of additivity experiments in which cells were stimulated with various combinations of NGF, dBcAMP and TPA suggest that NGF induction of GAP-43 RNA (1) does not involve activation of protein kinase C but (2) may be mediated partially via activation of protein kinase A.