Prostaglandins sensitize sensory neurons to activation by mechanical, thermal and chemical stimuli. This sensitization also results in an increase in the stimulus-evoked release of the neuroactive peptides, substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide from sensory neurons. The cellular transduction cascade underlying the prostaglandin-induced augmentation of peptide release is not known. Therefore, we examined whether the sensitizing action of prostaglandins on peptide release from sensory neurons grown in culture is mediated by the second messenger, adenosine 3′, 5′ cyclic monophosphate (cAMP). Prostaglandin E2 and carba prostacyclin (a stable analog of prostaglandin I2) significantly increase the content of cAMP-like immunoreactive substance (icAMP) in the sensory neuron cultures at concentrations that also augment the bradykinin- or capsaicin-evoked release of peptides. Furthermore, pretreating sensory neurons with agents that increase intracellular cAMP mimics the sensitizing action of prostaglandins. Exposing cultures to either forskolin (0.1–10 microM), cholera toxin (1.5 micrograms), or 8-bromo-cAMP (100 microM) results in a significant enhancement of the bradykinin- or capsaicin-stimulated release of both substance P-like and calcitonin gene-related peptide-like immunoreactive substances. Pretreating sensory neurons with the adenylyl cyclase inhibitor, 9-tetrahydro-2-furyl adenine (5 mM), abolishes the prostaglandin-induced increases in icAMP content and attenuates the prostaglandin E2 or carba prostacyclin enhancement of the evoked release of calcitonin gene-related peptide-like immunoreactive substance. These results demonstrate that the cAMP transduction cascade mediates the sensitizing actions of prostaglandins on peptide release from sensory neurons.