Altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function (increased plasma cortisol level) has been shown to be associated with mood and behavior. Protein kinase C (PKC), an important component of the phosphatidylinositol signal transduction system, plays a major role in mediating various physiological functions. The present study investigates the effects of acute (single) and repeated (10-day) administrations of 0.5 or 1.0 mg/kg doses of dexamethasone (DEX), a synthetic glucocorticoid, on B(max) and K(D) of [3H]phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate ([3H]PDBu) binding, PKC activity, and protein expression of PKC isozymes α, β, γ, δ, and ε in the membrane and the cytosolic fractions of rat cortex and hippocampus. It was observed that repeated administration of 1.0 mg/kg DEX for 10 days caused a significant increase in B(max) of [63H]PDBu binding to PKC, in PKC activity, and in expressed protein levels of the γ and ε isozymes in both the cytosolic and the membrane fractions of the cortex and the hippocampus, whereas a lower dose of DEX (0.5 mg/kg for 10 days) caused these changes only in the hippocampus. On the other hand, a single administration of DEX (0.5 or 1.0 mg/kg) had no significant effect on PKC in the cortex or in the hippocampus. These results suggest that alterations in HPA function from repeated administration of glucocorticoids may modulate PKC-mediated functions.