Properties of forskolin activation of adenylate cyclase in the liver fluke Fasciola hepatica are described. Forskolin stimulated adenylate cyclase activity in cell-free fluke particles to levels more than 30-fold above the basal rate. This activation was not dependent on guanine nucleotides and, upon washing of the particles, was rapidly reversed. Forskolin potentiated the activation of adenylate cyclase by serotonin (5-HT) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), resulting in both an increase in the maximal level of enzyme activity and a decrease in the apparent activation constant (KA). The 5-HT antagonist 2-bromo-LSD did not inhibit enzyme activation by forskolin. Furthermore, forskolin had no effect on specific [3H]LSD binding to fluke particles. Activation of adenylate cyclase by sodium fluoride or guanine nucleotides was modified in a complex manner by forskolin with both stimulatory and inhibitory effects present. The results suggest that forskolin does not interact directly with the 5-HT receptor coupled to adenylate cyclase. Instead, it appears that forskolin effects are, at least in part, due to its ability to alter the interaction between the regulatory and catalytic components of adenylate cyclase. Incubation of intact flukes with forskolin increased their cAMP levels 2- to 3-fold. The concentration dependence of this response was similar to that for forskolin activation of adenylate cyclase in fluke particles, with 300 microM forskolin giving the maximum response. Forskolin and other agents that increased fluke cAMP levels also stimulated fluke motility.