Epithelial cells utilize at least two types of apical Cl- channels, the cAMP-activated cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) and the Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent Cl- channel. While phorbal ester (PMA) activates only CFTR-dependent Cl- secretion and the Ca2+ ionophore A23187 only the Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent Cl- secretion, PMA and A23187 share the ability to down-regulate expression of the CFTR gene at the transcriptional level. Since both PMA and A23187 can activate protein kinases, we hypothesized that protein kinase pathways may be involved in the regulation of CFTR gene expression. Exposure of HT-29 human colon carcinoma cells to the protein kinase C activator SC9 down-regulated CFTR mRNA levels in a dose-dependent fashion, similar to that seen with PMA. The reduction in CFTR transcript levels by SC9 and PMA was blocked by H7, an inhibitor of protein kinases. In a similar fashion, the down-regulation of CFTR transcript levels by A23187 was blocked by H7 as well as staurosporine, another protein kinase inhibitor. Interestingly, both H7 and staurosporine themselves increased CFTR mRNA levels. Quantification of CFTR gene transcription rate showed a reduction by SC9 (similar to that with PMA and A23187) that was prevented by H7 and that H7 by itself increased CFTR transcription. Together, these observations suggest that protein kinase pathways, likely including protein kinase C, are involved in the regulation of CFTR gene expression, with activation or inhibition of protein kinase activity down-regulating or up-regulating CFTR gene expression, respectively.