Increases in activity of both protein kinase A (PKA) and protein kinase C (PKC) contribute to short-term facilitation of Aplysia sensorimotor synapses evoked by serotonin (5-HT). We report here that increasing levels of cAMP in sensory neurons evokes increases in both synaptic efficacy and in the number of sensory neuron varicosities contacting the major axons of motor cell L7 at intermediate times (3 hr) that persist for 24 hr. Treatment with phorbol esters results in a large transient increase in synaptic efficacy that is accompanied by a large transient increase in the number of sensory neuron varicosities with the newest varicosities most susceptible to elimination. The reversal of the synaptic facilitation and the structural changes does not appear to be the result of long-term inhibitory actions of persistent PKC activation by phorbol esters, since changes in synaptic efficacy can be evoked by additional applications of either phorbol esters or 5-HT. The short-lived changes in structure evoked by phorbol esters occur in preexisting sensory neurites and not by new growth, since increases in PKC activity with phorbol esters lead to reductions in neurite extension and to retractions by sensory neuron growth cones. The action of phorbol esters on growth cone extension is reversible with washout. The results suggest that increases in PKA and PKC activities by 5-HT contribute to short (minutes) and intermediate (hours) forms of facilitation of sensorimotor synapses while increases in PKA activity also mediate long-term (days) maintenance of synaptic facilitation.