The effects of pituitary adenylyl cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP) analogs on prostate cancer cell lines was investigated. 125I-PACAP-27 bound with high affinity to PC-3 cells (K(d) = 10 nM) to a single class of sites (B(max) = 30,000/cell). By RT-PCR, a major 305 bp band was observed using cDNA derived from PC-3, LNCaP or DU-145 cells. Specific 125I-PACAP binding was inhibited with high affinity by PACAP-27, PACAP-38 and PACAP(6-38) (IC50 values of 15, 10 and 300 nM, respectively) but not by PACAP(28-38). PACAP elevated cAMP and the increase caused by PACAP-27 was reversed by PACAP(6-38). PACAP transiently increased c-fos gene expression and the increase in c-fos mRNA was reversed by PACAP(6-38). PACAP-27 stimulated colony formation in PC-3 cells, whereas PACAP(6-38) reduced colony number and size. In nude mice bearing PC-3 xenografts, PACAP(6-38) significantly slowed tumor growth. These data suggest that biologically active type 1 PACAP receptors are present on human prostate cancer cells and that prostate cancer cell growth is inhibited by PACAP(6-38).