Islets undergo a number of upregulatory changes to meet the increased demand for insulin during pregnancy, including an increase in glucose- stimulated insulin secretion with a reduction in the stimulation threshold. Treatment with the lactogenic hormone prolactin (PRL) in vitro has been shown to induce changes in islets similar to those observed during pregnancy. We examined cAMP production in islets treated with PRL to determine if changes in cAMP are involved in the upregulation of insulin secretion. Insulin secretion and cAMP concentrations were measured from islets in response to a suprathreshold (6.8 mmol/l) or high (16.8 mmol/l) glucose concentration in the presence of the phosphodiesterase inhibitor isobutylmethylxanthine. Insulin secretion increased by 2.1-, 5.0-, and 5.9-fold at the suprathreshold glucose concentration and by 1.6-, 2.3-, and 2.9-fold at the higher glucose concentration after 1, 3, and 5 days of PRL treatment, respectively. After a similar pattern, cAMP metabolism increased by 1.2-, 1.6-, and 2.1-fold at the suprathreshold glucose concentration and by 1.2-, 1.7-, and 2.2-fold at the high glucose concentration after 1, 3, and 5 days of PRL treatment, respectively. The similar increases in insulin secretion and cAMP concentration suggest that changes in cAMP metabolism are involved in lactogen-induced upregulation of insulin secretion. To gain additional insight into the role of cAMP in the upregulation of islet function after lactogen treatment, we examined the relationship between changes in cAMP concentration and insulin secretion. Under all conditions (differing glucose concentrations and time periods), the increase in insulin release was directly proportional to the increase in cAMP. Thus increased glucose- stimulated insulin secretion from lactogen-treated islets could be accounted for by increased generation of cAMP and did not appear to require any further specific changes in intracellular processes mediated by cAMP. Because the PRL receptor is not directly involved in cAMP metabolism, the lactogen-induced increase in cAMP was most likely due to the increase in glucose metabolism that we have previously demonstrated in PRL-treated islets and in islets during pregnancy.