Brief phorbol ester treatment of BON cells results in a persistent release and cellular depletion of immunoreactive chromogranin A (CGA-IR) and neurotensin (NT-IR) cell contents. The purpose of the present study was to characterize the effects of 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol-13-acetate (TPA) on the secretion, biosynthesis, and steady-state messenger RNA (mRNA) levels of chromogranin A (CGA) and of a coresident peptide, neurotensin, by a novel human pancreatic carcinoid cell line, called BON. Acute TPA treatment (100 nM, 1 h) of BON cells resulted in 20- and 40-fold elevations in release of CGA-IR and NT-IR, respectively; and a 70-90% depletion of CGA-IR and NT-IR cell contents. TPA treatment also increased the biosynthetic rate of CGA-IR. Steady-state mRNA levels of CGA and NT/N (neurotensin/neuromedin N) were unchanged. Cell contents of CGA-IR and NT-IR were not replenished for a period of up to 6 days; secretion of CGA-IR and NT-IR persisted. In addition, BON cells failed to release CGA in response to stimulation by ionomycin and A23187 several days after acute TPA treatment. Our data indicate that the lack of replenishment of cell contents of CGA-IR and NT-IR is not due to decreases in steady-state CGA-IR and NT-IR mRNA levels, nor is it due to a decrease in biosynthesis of CGA-IR, but it is the result of a loss in the ability of TPA-treated BON cells to store and secrete CGA-IR and NT-IR in a regulated manner. These effects of TPA are mediated through the PKC pathway.