We have isolated cDNAs encoding PDE4A8 (phosphodiesterase 4 isoform A8), a new human cAMP-specific PDE4 isoform encoded by the PDE4A gene. PDE4A8 has a novel N-terminal region of 85 amino acids that differs from those of the related 'long' PDE4A4, PDE4A10 and PDE4A11 isoforms. The human PDE4A8 N-terminal region has diverged substantially from the corresponding isoforms in the rat and other mammals, consistent with rapid evolutionary change in this region of the protein. When expressed in COS-7 cells, PDE4A8 localized predominantly in the cytosol, but approx. 20 % of the enzyme was associated with membrane fractions. Cytosolic PDE4A8 was exquisitely sensitive to inhibition by the prototypical PDE4 inhibitor rolipram (IC50 of 11 ± 1 nM compared with 1600 nM for PDE4A4), but was less sensitive to inhibition by cilomilast (IC 50 of 101 ± 7 nM compared with 61 nM for PDE4A4). PDE4A8 mRNA was found to be expressed predominantly in skeletal muscle and brain, a pattern that differs from the tissue expression of other human PDE4 isoforms and also from that of rat PDE4A8. Immunohistochemical analysis showed that PDE4A8 could be detected in discrete regions of human brain, including the cerebellum, spinal cord and cerebral cortex. The unique tissue distribution of PDE4A8, combined with the evolutionary divergence of its N-terminus, suggest that this isoform may have a specific function in regulating cAMP levels in human skeletal muscle and brain. © The Authors.