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To further elucidate the mechanisms by which ACTH (adrenocorticotropin) exerts its long-term action to maintain normal levels of adrenocortical cytochromes P-450 and related enzymes, the abilities of cholera toxin and prostaglandins E2 and F2 alpha to induce the synthesis of cytochromes P-450scc, P-45011 beta, and P-450C21 and adrenodoxin have been examined. These effectors stimulate the production of cyclic AMP and thus steroidogenesis in the adrenal cortex. Using bovine adrenocortical cells in primary monolayer culture, we have shown that treatment with cholera toxin results in increased synthesis of cytochromes P-450scc and P-45011 beta and adrenodoxin, similar to the effect observed upon ACTH treatment. Prostaglandins E2 and F2 alpha are less effective at inducing the synthesis of the mitochondrial cytochromes P-450, and do not seem to induce the synthesis of adrenodoxin. Furthermore, cholera toxin was found to be less effective at inducing the synthesis of microsomal cytochrome P-450C21 than ACTH, and no more effective than the prostaglandins. Thus, while it appears that elevation of cyclic AMP levels is a necessary step leading to increased synthesis of adrenocortical forms of cytochrome P-450, the detailed mechanism of this induction will be found to be different for each of the different enzymes.